Antiretroviral drugs (ARV) have been a life changing medical advancement. ARVs have given hundreds of thousands of HIV patients a longer and healthier life. Even though ARVs have seen the medical field take huge steps in dealing with HIV and AIDS, recent studies have indicated that these drugs could be causing brain damage in patients.
According to scientists, ARVs are now a double-edged sword that is giving longer life to patients on one side and affecting their brain function on the other. Scientists have said that ARVs could lead to confusion, forgetfulness, and behavioural changes.
ARVs Producing Alzheimer’s Disease Causing Enzyme
According to researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, there is increasing evidence that ARVs are causing HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorders, commonly referred to as HAND. The researchers said that there are some protease inhibitors, used in effective HIV medicines such as ARVs, that are causing the brain to produce peptide beta amyloid enzyme. This enzyme is believed to cause Alzheimer’s disease.
With an increase in the amyloid precursor protein levels prompted by ARVS, the enzyme then causes damage to neurons.
According to Kelly Jordan-Sciutto, one of the researchers, protease inhibitors are very efficient antiviral therapies but, unfortunately, they contain inherent harmful contents. The researcher added that the findings should not cause panic. Instead, they will act as a guide to rethinking how ARVs are currently being used and even come up with an alternative therapy with less negative effects but with similar effectiveness.
The Eye-Opening Study
The study that was published in the American Journal of Pathology, involved two animal models. The models were used to confirm that two protease inhibitors (ritonavir and saquinavir) that are still quite popular therapies especially in Africa, certainly cause an increase in BACE1 and amyloid precursor protein.
The protease inhibitors ritonavir and saquinavir have been major parts of the ARV therapy drug that has been hailed for reducing HIV-related deaths by 50 percent especially in areas hit hard by HIV and AIDS such as Africa.
ARVs prevent the production of viral enzymes that create infectious particles. These infectious particles are responsible for allowing the virus to spread through the patient’s body accelerating death.
In the study, the scientists administered ARVs to cells in culture. They then realised there were jumps in signs of the unfolded protein response. An increase was also noted in amyloid precursor protein processing and BACE1 expression. This is an indication of neuronal damage.
They also observed that applying the two protease inhibitors at doses similar to those in the blood of humans taking ARVs led to substantial increases in molecular markers linked with increases in BACE1 expression.
They went further to find a prevent measure to curb further damage from the drugs. They found that administering PERK enzyme helped reduce the increase in BACE1 expression thus reducing the neurons triggered by the two protease inhibitors.
These new findings open up doors to further research that will bring us much closer to helping HIV patients live longer without further risk to their health.
Source: American Journal of Pathology, Jan 2017