Although a combination of antiretroviral therapies has led to a decrease in the mortality rates in people with HIV infection, a new study has found that these patients often show signs of premature ageing.
Researchers discovered that the HIV-virus infection prematurely advances the human biological ageing process on an average by five years.
This further propels the onset of age-related diseases like cardiovascular disease, neurocognitive impairment, and liver problems, thus increasing the risk of mortality by 19 percent.
“The medical issues in treating people with HIV have changed. Now we worry about diseases related to ageing, like cardiovascular disease, neurocognitive impairment, and liver problems,” said Howard Fox, professor at University of Nebraska in the US.
Researchers used methylation — the process by which small chemical groups are attached to DNA — as a tool to analyse the epigenetic changes in people’s cells – that affect the DNA but not the sequence.
Methylation of DNA can impact how genes get translated into proteins.
There was no difference found between the methylation patterns in those people who were recently infected, that is less than five years and those with chronic infection of more than 12 years, the researchers added in the paper published in the journal Molecular Cell.
“We set out to look at the effects of HIV infection on methylation and I was surprised that we found such a strong ageing effect,” said another researcher Trey Ideker, professor at University of California-San Diego.
The study included 137 patients in the analysis. Subjects who were chosen didn’t have other health conditions that could skew the results.
“People infected with HIV should be aware that they’re of greater risk for age-related diseases and should work to diminish those risks by making healthy lifestyle choices regarding exercise, diet, and drug, alcohol and tobacco use,” the researchers suggested.