Antiretroviral Therapy Leaves Patients More Susceptible to Aging-Related Illnesses

a scientist is using microscope | Feature | Antiretroviral Therapy Leaves Patients More Susceptible to Aging-Related Illnesses

A new study from UCLA shows that antiretroviral therapy given to patients over two years was unable to restore age-appropriate epigenetic patterns. The results mean that patients are more likely to suffer from aging-related illnesses, suggesting rapid aging.

RELATED: Epigenetic Marks: What They Are, and Why They Matter

In this article:

  1. Epigenetics
  2. Antiretroviral Therapy
  3. Prior Research
  4. The Study
  5. Background
  6. Method
  7. Results
  8. Summary Points

Antiretroviral Therapy and Epigenetics


A person’s genetics rarely changes, but environmental influences can impact epigenetics. That’s why some scientists believe that it’s more useful to consider epigenetics than genetics alone when diagnosing and treating individuals.

On top of that, studies show that epigenetics can mediate between negative environmental influences and the onset of disease. Scientists are eager to harness the clinical potential of epigenetics to help improve early diagnosis of age-related disease.

Antiretroviral Therapy

a man is taking medicine | Antiretroviral Therapy | Antiretroviral Therapy Leaves Patients More Susceptible to Aging-Related Illnesses

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a type of retrovirus which changes the genome of a cell by placing a copy of its RNA into the DNA of the cell that it occupies.

HIV treatments require patients to take medicines to slow down the progression of the virus in their bodies.

The mix of medication used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART). The drugs suppress HIV in the most efficient way to stop the development of HIV disease. ART also serves to stop the transmission of the virus.

ART drugs are taken daily and recommended for anyone with HIV as soon as a diagnosis is given. The WHO advocates treatment whether anyone has had the virus for a short or long time, and regardless of health due to recorded rates in death and infections because of therapy.

Prior Research

Prior research by the UCLA team found that methylation patterns in antiretroviral-naive adults indicate that their epigenetic age exceeds their chronological age by 14 years. That finding suggests HIV speeds up at least this aging mechanism. Because antiretroviral-treated people run an increased risk of age-related diseases, these investigators hypothesized that ART initiation does not restore HIV-perturbed epigenetic patterns to age-appropriate levels and that DNA methylation ages stay advanced in treated HIV-infected adults compared to chronologically age-matched controls.

The Study

Untreated HIV infection is linked with epigenetic changes that suggest rapid aging. A new study by UCLA researchers shows that antiretroviral therapy given over two years was unable to completely restore age-appropriate epigenetic patterns, leaving patients more susceptible to aging-related illnesses.


The research carried out over a number of years was the first longitudinal study that investigated the relationship between HIV infection and antiretroviral therapy in regards to the acceleration of gene expression and aging.

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DNA was taken from 15 HIV-infected patients at three different times:

  • 6-12 months before the start of the antiretroviral therapy
  • 6-12 months after the start of the antiretroviral therapy
  • 18-24 months after the start of the antiretroviral therapy

Researchers then made a comparison of those samples with DNA extracted from 15 non-HIV-infected people of the same age.

The sample size was small and a larger study is needed to make better comparisons and detect more precise epigenetic changes as a result of the ART.


There were partial improvements in age acceleration measured across four epigenetic clock measurements, however, antiretroviral therapy can’t completely stop accelerated cell aging seen in HIV.

The results suggest reasons why even HIV-infected patients who had successful treatment are at higher risk of developing diseases associated with aging.

Additional studies to examine and find the link between antiretroviral therapy and epigenetic age acceleration need to be carried out.

Summary Points

  • The mix of medication used to treat HIV is called antiretroviral therapy (ART).
  • A recent longitudinal study by UCLA looked at DNA from HIV patients before, during, and after antiretroviral therapy.
  • HIV-1 infection associated with age acceleration was most dramatic before ART.
  • There was a partial reduction in age acceleration after ART.

If you’re interested in learning more about epigenetics, visit the TruDiagnostic website or get more involved at the TruDiagnostic forum.

Please share your thoughts about methylation expression with us in the comments section below. 

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