Although AIDS research has come a long way since the 1980's, scientists are just now honing in on one of the cognitive side effects of HIV infections.
Neuroscientists have discovered that HIV weakens the blood-brain barrier that keeps infectious diseases and harmful chemicals from entering and damaging the brain.
As a result, people frequently came down with serious brain problems such as severe dementia and meningitis in the early days of the disease, but fortunately the effects are now much milder due to better treatment options.
Although the effects on the brain are milder, they are still affecting patients today. One study found that perhaps half of all people with HIV have at least some cognitive defects, but the symptoms are generally so mild that most people aren’t even aware of them.
This effect on the brain has stumped scientists for years, but thanks to research which began in 2007, scientists may have pin pointed the problem.
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City found that 5% of astrocytes — neural cells that can live inside blood vessels near the brain — become infected by HIV when the disease is contracted. These infected cells then cause other neighboring cells to die off and weaken the blood-brain barrier, allowing damage to the brain.
Thanks to this innovative research by this group of neuroscientists, there is hope new drugs can be found to block the harmful chemical transmissions to the brain from infected astrocytes.
[Image via AP Images.]