A new study says that HIV infection has an “early and significant” effect on the aging process.
Scientists found that this negative effect occurred within the first 2-3 years of infection. Even with treatment, people living with the virus can lose up to five years of life, they warn.
It helps explain why some people with HIV are more prone to heart disease, cancer, and other age-related problems.
The research was undertaken by scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). It was published in iScience.
The study collected blood samples from 102 men before infection and then 2-3 years after infection. These results were compared with blood samples taken from men over a similar period who had not acquired the virus.
The study looked in particular at changes at the DNA level.
DNA aging and epigenetic
Long chains of proteins make up the DNA found in all human cells. DNA basically programs your cells to code the functions they perform.
Over time, as our cells regenerate, these long strands of DNA undergo a process of degradation known as methylation. This means that the cells in our body do not function as well as when we are younger. We become more susceptible to potential diseases or weaknesses.
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What is biologically “aging” is complicated. However, it is known that over the years certain parts of DNA are more susceptible to this process. This is known as epigenetic aging.
In this study, people with HIV showed a “significant age acceleration” in these DNA regions. These changes occurred “just before infection and ended two to three years later in the absence of highly active antiretroviral therapy. Similar age acceleration was not seen in uninfected participants over the same time frame, ‘the study’s press release reads.
“Our access to rare, well-characterized samples has allowed us to design this study in a way that leaves no room for doubt about the role of HIV in triggering the biological signatures of early aging,” said senior author Beth Jamieson, professor in hematology. and oncology at the Geffen School.
“Our long-term goal is to determine if we can use any of these signatures to predict whether an individual is at increased risk for certain outcomes of aging-related diseases, thereby revealing new targets for intervention therapies.”
Treatment partially reverses the effects of aging
This is not the first study to look at HIV and aging. In May, a Lancet study found that “persistent HIV infection” was linked to aging DNA.
In other words, the biological age of people with the virus appeared to be older than their actual age.
This was most noticeable in those who passed away some time before starting treatment. When treatment was started, it took up to several years to partially reverse the effects.
This study found that biological people with the infection are 1-3 years older than theirs actual age.
Queerty he contacted Dr. Jamieson of UCLA to ask her about more information on her new study. She said people diagnosed shortly after the infection and treated promptly were likely to have less to worry about.
“We did not directly test the effects of early HIV treatment on epigenetic age, but when combined with the results of our two other studies, I believe that early treatment is likely to stop epigenetic aging.”
He believes that this latest study is “another strong case for the early detection and treatment of HIV.”
“This study makes it very clear that HIV alone can alter the rate of epigenetic aging, increasing the long-term risk of reduced health.
“I also think that another important aspect of this work is that this study gives us a much clearer picture of the overall effect of HIV infection on the body. We are currently tracking this to better understand the relationship between these epigenetic changes and the health effects experienced by people living with HIV treatment. ‘
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Avoiding age-related HIV-related health problems
Since HIV-positive people may be more prone to heart, kidney, and liver disease, what advice can Jamieson offer to avoid getting Tbis? Is it just a matter of adopting a healthy lifestyle and seeing your doctor regularly?
“One of the things we know is that our environment and experiences influence epigenetics, so improving epigenetic aging is not beyond the realm of possibilities,” she replied.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is that people living with HIV should work with their doctors to make sure they are on drugs that stop the virus.
“In addition to this advice, we need to borrow all the advice given to people living without HIV. It means doing exactly what you have proposed. Get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, stop smoking, exercise, and get regular check-ups. We know that smoking has a big impact on the epigenetic landscape, so smokers may want to take that into account. “