Study Highlights Previously Unknown Functional Effect of HIV on Brain

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been researched by Stellenbosch University (SU) researchers to have a direct impact on the brain during the early stages of the infection. Having conducted the study as part of his Ph.D. in Psychiatry, lead author, Dr. Stefan du Plessis had drawn a comparison between the brain activity of HIV-positive participants and people without the infection with the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). It had been observed that HIV-positive participants performed high motor function tasks with a decreased blood flow in the brain’s striatal region. Furthermore, a section of the brain that involves enthusiasm for life, apathy, and motivation aspects had been observed to receive less blood flow and exhibit diminutive action.

Nearly 50% HIV Patients Suffer from Some Form of Cognitive Impairment

The fMRI scans have demonstrated the way significant parts of the brain are affected by HIV, such as those concerning motivation. Du Plessis has explained that this could take such a toll on the motivational aspect of the brain of an HIV patient that they are simply not motivated enough to even get out of their bed or take their medication. A brain region known to atrophy in the case of HIV, i.e. frontal cortex has also been studied by the researchers who discovered a connection between brain functional impairment and the levels of atrophy. The levels of function lowered with the thinning of the actual frontal lobe.

Du Plessis has hoped the results of the study could stimulate more studies which examine the effects of antiretroviral (ARV) and other interventions.

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