Abstract

Infection with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is frequently complicated in its late stages by the AIDS dementia complex, a neurological syndrome characterized by abnormalities in cognition, motor performance, and behavior. This dementia is due partially or wholly to a direct effect of the virus on the brain rather than to opportunistic infection, but its pathogenesis is not well understood. Productive HIV-1 brain infection is detected only in a subset of patients and is confined largely or exclusively to macrophages, microglia, and derivative multinucleated cells that are formed by virus-induced cell fusion. Absence of cytolytic infection of neurons, oligodentrocytes, and astrocytes has focused attention on the possible role of indirect mechanisms of brain dysfunction related to either virus or cell-coded toxins. Delayed development of the AIDS dementia complex, despite both early exposure of the nervous system to HIV-1 and chronic leptomeningeal infection, indicates that although this virus is "neurotropic," it is relatively nonpathogenic for the brain in the absence of immunosuppression. Within the context of the permissive effect of immunosuppression, genetic changes in HIV-1 may underlie the neuropathological heterogeneity of the AIDS dementia complex and its relatively independent course in relation to the systemic manifestations of AIDS noted in some patients.

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