Popular HIV Drug May Cause Memory Declines

September 27, 2012

27 Sept (John Hopkins Medicine) The way the body metabolizes a commonly prescribed anti-retroviral drug that is used long term by patients infected with HIV may contribute to cognitive impairment by damaging nerve cells, a new Johns Hopkins research suggests.

Nearly 50 percent of people infected with HIV will eventually develop some form of brain damage that, while mild, can affect the ability to drive, work or participate in many daily activities. It has long been assumed that the disease was causing the damage, but Hopkins researchers say the drug efavirenz may play a key role.

People infected with HIV typically take a cocktail of medications to suppress the virus, and many will take the drugs for decades. Efavirenz is known to be very good at controlling the virus and is one of the few that crosses the blood-brain barrier and can target potential reservoirs of virus in the brain. Doctors have long believed that it might be possible to alleviate cognitive impairment associated with HIV by getting more drugs into the brain, but researchers say more caution is needed because there may be long-term effects of these drugs on the brain.

“People with HIV infections can’t stop taking anti-retroviral drugs. We know what happens then and it’s not good,” says Norman J. Haughey, Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “But we need to be very careful about the types of anti-retrovirals we prescribe, and take a closer look at their long-term effects. Drug toxicities could be a major contributing factor to cognitive impairment in patients with HIV.”

For more information go to:

HopkinsMedicine.org

Related article can be found at OMSJ.org

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