Neurocognitive Functioning in Antiretroviral Therapy–Naïve Youth With Behaviorally Acquired Human Immunodeficiency Virus



      Youth living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) account for over one third of new HIV infections and are at high risk of adverse psychosocial, everyday living, and health outcomes. Human immunodeficiency virus–associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) are known to affect health outcomes of HIV-infected adults even in the era of combination antiretroviral therapy. Thus, the current study aimed to characterize the prevalence and clinical correlates of HAND in youth living with HIV. Here, we report baseline neurocognitive data for behaviorally HIV-infected youth enrolled in a prospective study evaluating strategies of antiretroviral treatment initiation and use.


      A total of 220 participants, age 18–24 years, who were naive to treatment (except for prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission; n = 3), completed a comprehensive neurocognitive, substance use, and behavioral health assessment battery.


      Sixty-seven percent of youth met criteria for HAND (96.4% were asymptomatic and 3.5% were syndromic); deficits in episodic memory and fine-motor skills emerged as the most commonly affected ability areas. Multivariable models showed that lower CD4 count, longer time since HIV diagnosis, and high-risk alcohol use were uniquely associated with neurocognitive deficits.


      Over two thirds of youth with behaviorally acquired HIV evidence neurocognitive deficits, which have modest associations with more advanced HIV disease as well as other factors. Research is needed to determine the impact of such neuropsychiatric morbidity on mental health and HIV disease treatment outcomes (e.g., nonadherence) and transition to independent living responsibilities in HIV-infected youth, as well as its long-term trajectory and possible responsiveness to cognitive rehabilitation and pharmacotherapy.


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