HIV and drug misuse in the Edinburgh cohort

Jeanne E Bell, J Carlos Arango, Roy Robertson, Ray P Brettle, Clifford Leen, Peter Simmonds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Edinburgh cohort of intravenous drug users (IVDUs) became infected with HIV between 1983 and 1984. Before the era of effective therapy, many of these infected IVDUs displayed cognitive impairments on progressing to AIDS and were found to have HIV encephalitis (HIVE). Full autopsies were conducted on these patients, providing an opportunity to study the intersecting pathology of pure HIVE and drug use. High proviral load in the brain correlated well with the presence of giant cells and HIV p24 positivity. In presymptomatic HIV infection, IVDUs were found to have a lymphocytic infiltrate in the central nervous system (CNS). Apart from the expected microglial activation in the presence of HIV infection of the CNS, drug use in its own right was found to be associated with microglial activation. Examination of HIV-negative IVDUs revealed a number of neuropathologic features, including microglial activation, which may underpin HIV-related pathology in the CNS. HIV isolated from different regions of the brain was exclusively of R5-tropic type throughout the course of infection. Detailed studies of p17 and V3 sequences suggest that viral sequestration occurs in the CNS before the onset of AIDS and that increasing diversity of HIV variants within the brain is associated with increasing severity of HIVE. Because brain isolates have proved to be different from those in lymphoid tissue (and blood), it is likely that selective neuroadaptive pressures operate before HIVE supervenes. Drug abuse may be synergistic in this process through activation of microglia, breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, and direct neurotoxicity. Collections of clinically well-characterized HIV-infected tissues such as those in the Edinburgh Brain Bank are a vital resource to support ongoing studies of viral pathogenesis in the CNS and interactions with drug abuse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S35-42
JournalJournal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes
Volume31 Suppl 2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2002


  • Adult
  • Brain
  • Cohort Studies
  • Encephalitis, Viral
  • Great Britain
  • HIV Infections
  • HIV-1
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous


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