Study on HIV-Associated Dementia
HIV affects the central nervous system (CNS) and can initiate a progressive neurodegenerative process culminating in HIV-associated dementia (HAD), a UKZN study has revealed.
Mr Khayelihle Makhathini, who graduated with a Masters in Medical Science in Human Physiology, conducted the lab-based study titled: “Tat Protein Induced Neurocognitive Dysfunction”, which looked at how human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is a major health threat in South Africa and worldwide.
Tat protein and gp120 are two of the viral proteins that have been linked to the neurotoxic effects of HIV, he said.
‘When a brain is infected by HIV, neurocognitive dysfunction leads to the loss of learning and memory,’ said Makhathini.
‘It is not easy to conduct the experiment directly on humans so we used an animal model to evaluate the effect of Tat protein.’
According to Makhathini’s study, which was supervised by Professor William Daniels, HIV has an impact on the central nervous system. The study gives clarity on the administration of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) that has improved the quality of life of many HIV patients, although its overall efficacy for neuro-AIDS remains unsatisfactory.
‘Although infected patients take ARVs, those who develop HIV neurocognitive dysfunction (HAND) still have a loss of learning and memory.’
Makhathini, a young neuroscientist at UKZN, actively participates in the annual Brain Awareness Week in which he and his colleagues visit UKZN campuses, primary and high schools.
‘During that week we make people aware of the importance of exercising, eating healthily, and inform them of other diseases that affect the brain,’ he said.
Makhathini is currently reading for his PhD in Human Physiology and preparing a thesis titled: “The Impact of Stress on Tat protein-induced effects in a rat’s brain”.
‘The main purpose of this study is to clarify the environmental stress we are usually exposed to and how this condition can cause exacerbation effects after infection with HIV.’
Makhathini grew up in rural Maphumulo in KwaZulu-Natal and was raised by his unemployed mother and grandmother.
‘It was difficult growing up there because there was very limited access to information about careers but my mother and grandmother were adamant that I continue with my studies after matric,’ Makhathini said.
- Nombuso Dlamini