Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 in the central nervous system leads to decreased dopamine in different regions of postmortem human brains

Adarsh M. Kumar, J. B. Fernandez, Elyse J. Singer, Deborah Commins, Drenna Waldrop-Valverde, Raymond L. Ownby, Mahendra Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) invades the central nervous system (CNS) shortly after infection and becomes localized in varying concentrations in different brain regions, the most vulnerable is the basal ganglia (BG). It is hypothesized that HIV-1mediated neuropathogenesis involves degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra and the loss of dopaminergic terminals in the BG, leading to deficits in the central dopaminergic activity, resulting in progressive impairment of neurocognitive and motor functions. In the era of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), although the incidence of HIV-associated dementia (HAD) has decreased, the neurocognitive and neuropsychological deficits continue to persist after HAART. In this study, We investigated the impact of HIV-1 on dopaminergic activity with respect to concentrations of dopamine (DA) and homovanillic acid (HVA) in different regions of postmortem human brains of HIV-1negative and HIV-1+ individuals and their relationship to neurocognitive impairment. We found that in HIV-1+ as well as HIV-negative cases, dopamine and HVA concentrationsin ranged widely in different brain regions. In HIV-negative brain regions, the highest concentration of DA was found in putamen, caudate, substantia nigra, and the basal ganglia. In HIV-1+ cases, there was a significant decrease in DA levels in caudate nucleus, putamen, globus pallidus, and substantia nigra compared to that in HIV-negative cases. In HIV-1+ cases, a strong correlation was found between DA levels in substantia nigra and other brain regions. Concentration of HVA in HIV-negative cases was also highest in the regions containing high dopamine levels. However, no significant decrease in regional HVA levels was found in HIV-1+ cases. HIV-1 RNA load (nondetectable [ND] to log10 6.9 copies/g tissue) also ranged widely in the same brain regions of HIV-1+ cases. Interestingly, the brain regions having the highest HIV-1 RNA had the maximum decrease in DA levels. Age, gender, ethnicity, and postmortem interval were not correlated with decrease in DA levels. Profile of DA, HVA, and HIV-1 RNA levels in the brain regions of HIV-1+ individuals treated with HAART was similar to those not treated with HAART. A majority of HIV-1+ individuals had variable degrees of neurocognitive impairments, but no specific relationship was found between the regional DA content and severity of neurocognitive deficits. These findings suggest widespread deficits in dopamine in different brain regions of HIV-1infected cases, and that these deficits may be the results of HIV-1induced neurodegeneration in the subcortical regions of human brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)257-274
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of neurovirology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • CNS
  • Dopamine
  • HIV-1
  • HVA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Virology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Neurology


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