Alexithymia is linked to neurocognitive, psychological, neuroendocrine, and immune dysfunction in persons living with HIV

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Abstract

The neuropathological changes resulting from Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection may manifest in alexithymia (AL), a multidimensional trait characterized by impairments in the cognitive assimilation of feelings and emotions. A sample of 93 HIV survivors scoring high, i.e., ≥74 on the 26-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-26), were compared to 79 low AL (TAS-26. ≤. 54) survivors on measures of neurocognitive, psychological, neuroendocrine and immune function. Neurocognitive function was evinced by a standardized test of psychomotor speed, cognitive flexibility and task switching ability, HIV Dementia and general cognitive status. Patients were also screened for levels of depression, anxiety and psychological stress. A 24-h urinary norepinephrine (NE) and cortisol (CORT) collection was taken; blood was drawn for T lymphocyte subset counts (CD4+CD3+) and HIV-1 viral load. Alexithymic patients exhibited higher levels of executive dysfunction, psychological distress, norepinephrine-to-cortisol (NE/CORT) ratio and viral load. Linear regression models accounting for sociodemographic and disease-related variables revealed two AL subscales, difficulties identifying and describing feelings, predicted and explained a significant proportion of variance in the outcome measures. Specifically, poorer executive task-switching/cognitive flexibility was associated with greater difficulty describing feelings; dysregulated autonomic response (high NE/CORT ratio) and depressive symptoms were predicted by difficulty identifying feelings; higher levels of anxiety and psychological stress were both predicted by greater difficulty describing and identifying feelings. Overall, the psychoneuroimmunological profile of alexithymia in HIV positive persons at mid-stage of infection suggests a greater vulnerability for disease progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-175
Number of pages11
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Volume36
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2014

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Keywords

  • Alexithymia
  • Cortisol
  • Depression
  • Executive function
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Norepinephrine
  • Stress
  • Viral load

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems

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