HIV is the retrovirus responsible for AIDS and that also induces premature biological aging, according to a new study from the University of California Los Angeles.
HIV causes premature aging in the people it infects and accelerates age-related biological changes in DNA. The changes observed by the University of California researchers and their colleagues often occur within two to three years of infection and shorten the lifespan of HIV-positive people by about five years compared to healthy people.
HIV prematurely ages the body
“Our work shows that even in the first months and years of living with HIV, the virus has already begun a rapid process of DNA aging,” said Elizabeth Crabb Breen, professor emeritus at UCLA. The genetic changes seen in the blood samples of the 102 male volunteers are epigenetic (DNA methylation) in nature, meaning they don’t change genes, but their expression.
The virus has already initiated a rapid aging process in the DNA
The researchers analyzed five epigenetic markers of aging: four are ‘clocks’ that assess the acceleration of biological aging, and the last is the length of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes whose structure protects them from erosion.
Compared with samples from healthy volunteers of the same age and time, HIV-positive people show a significant acceleration of biological aging – between 1.9 and 4.8 years – and shorter telomeres just two to three years after the first infection.
These interesting observations have some limitations: the small number of participants – all men, mostly white – makes it impossible to generalize the findings to women or ethnic minorities, who are also victims of HIV. The definition of age and markers that indicate normal aging are still debated in the scientific community.