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Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is a rapidly evolving multidisciplinary field founded on the premise that psychosocial factors, the central nervous system, and the immune system are intimately linked. Following publication of scientific evidence supporting this link, a number of animal and human studies have been published, both inside and outside the area of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. These studies support the existence of bidirectional feedback mechanisms operating between the brain and the immune system. To date, however, there is no all-encompassing model that predicts individual differences in the relationship among psychosocial factors, immunologic measures, and clinical disease progression in HIV type 1 (HIV-1) infection. This variability in human response has been explained by a number of cofactors (host as well as environmental) that appear to accelerate the course of the disease.
Since psychosocial factors are highly amenable to behavioral interventions, several models for intervention research have been proposed to evaluate whether such interventions can enhance immune functioning, thereby curtailing disease progression. Examination of these interventions in the context of PNI and HIV-1 infection, however, is rather limited. Therefore, researchers and clinicians must not only consider conceptualizations and paradigms in this area of research, but also focus on empirically testable, theory-driven models that allow for the unique characteristics of individual patients.
The major neurological complication of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection is cognitive impairment, which can range in severity from a mild subclinical cognitive inefficiency to a severe dementing illness. Mild to moderate cognitive impairment is identified primarily by neuropsychological tests. The prevalence and severity of cognitive impairment associated with HIV-1 infection increases as the disease progresses. Deficits in attention, information processing speed, memory, and motor abilities can occur early in the course of HIV-1 infection, with deficits in abstraction and executive functions observed in later stages of infection. The nature of the cognitive impairment observed is thought to reflect the effects of HIV-1 infection on the integrity of subcortical or frontostriatal brain systems. Issues related to the detection of subclinical to severe cognitive impairment are discussed, along with the clinical significance of mild cognitive impairment as a significant risk factor for mortality in HIV-1 infection. The need to control for possible confounding factors that can influence test performance is also reviewed.
The diagnosis of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)–associated cognitive-motor disorder—either minor cognitive-motor disorder (MCMD) or HIV-1-associated dementia (HAD)—is fraught with potential pitfalls for the clinician. Before making such a diagnosis, clinicians should exclude other etiologies by using neuroimaging, lumbar puncture, and serum chemistries to screen for opportunistic and non-opportunistic infections of the brain and meninges. Clinicians should also consider psychoneurotoxicity (caused from the use of psychoactive substances and prescribed medications) and psychopathology, such as mood, anxiety, and other disorders. In addition, a thorough medical history and physical examination, including a complete neurologic and neuropsychiatric mental status examination, are necessary for an accurate diagnosis. There is also a need for standardized neuropsychological and functional status tests, since the diagnostic criteria for these disorders are partly based on these criteria. Treatment targets should include subclinical cognitive-motor impairment and neuroprotection, as well as MCMD and HAD. Currently, zidovudine remains the best proven treatment for these disorders, but other nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors, as well as nonnucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors and protease inhibitors, show promise, and selected agents from these classes are being tested in clinical trials. Other areas that should be investigated are the modulation of inflammatory mediators (such as tumor necrosis factor α), neurotransmitter manipulation (especially of dopamine), and nutritional interventions.
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