The impact of substance abuse on HIV-mediated neuropathogenesis in the current ART era

Vanessa Chilunda, Tina M. Calderon, Pablo Martinez-Aguado, Joan W. Berman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Approximately 37 million people worldwide are infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). One highly significant complication of HIV infection is the development of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) in 15–55% of people living with HIV (PLWH), that persists even in the antiretroviral therapy (ART) era. The entry of HIV into the central nervous system (CNS) occurs within 4–8 days after peripheral infection. This establishes viral reservoirs that may persist even in the presence of ART. Once in the CNS, HIV infects resident macrophages, microglia, and at low levels, astrocytes. In response to chronic infection and cell activation within the CNS, viral proteins, inflammatory mediators, and host and viral neurotoxic factors produced over extended periods of time result in neuronal injury and loss, cognitive deficits and HAND. Substance abuse is a common comorbidity in PLWH and has been shown to increase neuroinflammation and cognitive disorders. Additionally, it has been associated with poor ART adherence, and increased viral load in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), that may also contribute to increased neuroinflammation and neuronal injury. Studies have examined mechanisms that contribute to neuroinflammation and neuronal damage in PLWH, and how substances of abuse exacerbate these effects. This review will focus on how substances of abuse, with an emphasis on methamphetamine (meth), cocaine, and opioids, impact blood brain barrier (BBB) integrity and transmigration of HIV-infected and uninfected monocytes across the BBB, as well as their effects on monocytes/macrophages, microglia, and astrocytes within the CNS. We will also address how these substances of abuse may contribute to HIV-mediated neuropathogenesis in the context of suppressive ART. Additionally, we will review the effects of extracellular dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is increased in the CNS by substances of abuse, on HIV neuropathogenesis and how this may contribute to neuroinflammation, neuronal insult, and HAND in PLWH with active substance use. Lastly, we will discuss some potential therapies to limit CNS inflammation and damage in HIV-infected substance abusers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number146426
JournalBrain research
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019


  • Antiretroviral therapy
  • CNS
  • HIV associated neurocognitive disorders
  • Macrophages
  • Monocytes
  • Substances of abuse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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