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Early microstructural white matter changes in patients with HIV: A diffusion tensor imaging study

Bianca Stubbe-Drger1*, Michael Deppe1, Siawoosh Mohammadi15, Simon S Keller14, Harald Kugel2, Nora Gregor1, Stefan Evers1, Peter Young1, E-Bernd Ringelstein1, Gabriele Arendt3, Stefan Knecht1, Ingo W Husstedt1 and German Competence Network HIV/AIDS

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurology, University of M uumlnster, Albert-Schweitzer-Campus 1, M uumlnster, D-48149, Germany

2 Department of Radiology, University of M uumlnster, M uumlnster, Germany

3 Department of Neurology, University of D uuml uuml sseldorf, D uumlsseldorf, Germany

4 Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, London, UK

5 Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, UCL, Institute of Neurology, University College London, London, UK

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BMC Neurology 2012, 12:23  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-12-23

Published: 1 May 2012



Previous studies have reported white matter (WM) brain alterations in asymptomatic patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).


We compared diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) derived WM fractional anisotropy (FA) between HIV-patients with and without mild macroscopic brain lesions determined using standard magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We furthermore investigated whether WM alterations co-occurred with neurocognitive deficits and depression. We performed structural MRI and DTI for 19 patients and 19 age-matched healthy controls. Regionally-specific WM integrity was investigated using voxel-based statistics of whole-brain FA maps and region-of-interest analysis. Each patient underwent laboratory and neuropsychological tests.


Structural MRI revealed no lesions in twelve (HIV-MRN) and unspecific mild macrostructural lesions in seven patients (HIV-MRL). Both analyses revealed widespread FA-alterations in all patients. Patients with HIV-MRL had FA-alterations primarily adjacent to the observed lesions and, whilst reduced in extent, patients with HIV-MRN also exhibited FA-alterations in similar regions. Patients with evidence of depression showed FA-increase in the ventral tegmental area, pallidum and nucleus accumbens in both hemispheres, and patients with evidence of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder showed widespread FA-reduction.


These results show that patients with HIV-MRN have evidence of FA-alterations in similar regions that are lesioned in HIV-MRL patients, suggesting common neuropathological processes. Furthermore, they suggest a biological rather than a reactive origin of depression in HIV-patients.

Depression; HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder; Fractional anisotropy; Neuropsychology