Andre J W van der Kouwe, Martha J Holmes, Jadrana T F Toich, Mark F Cotton, Els Dobbels, Ernesta M Meintjes, Francesca Little, Barbara Laughton, Bharat Biswal, Suril Gohel, Paul A Taylor
Although HIV has been shown to impact brain connectivity in adults and youth, it is not yet known to what extent long-term early antiretroviral therapy (ART) may alter these effects, especially during rapid brain development in early childhood. Using both independent component analysis (ICA) and seed-based correlation analysis (SCA), we examine the effects of HIV infection in conjunction with early ART on resting state functional connectivity (FC) in 7 year old children. HIV infected (HIV+) children were from the Children with HIV Early Antiretroviral Therapy (CHER) trial and all initiated ART before 18 months; uninfected children were recruited from an interlinking vaccine trial. To better understand the effects of current and early immune health on the developing brain, we also investigated among HIV+ children the association of FC at 7 years with CD4 count and CD4%, both in infancy (6-8 weeks) and at scan. Although we found no differences within any ICA-generated resting state networks (RSNs) between HIV+ and uninfected children (27 HIV+, 18 uninfected), whole brain connectivity to seeds located at RSN connectivity peaks revealed several loci of FC differences, predominantly from seeds in midline regions (posterior cingulate cortex, paracentral lobule, cuneus, and anterior cingulate). Reduced long-range connectivity and increased short-range connectivity suggest developmental delay. Within the HIV+ children, clinical measures at age 7 years were not associated with FC values in any of the RSNs; however, poor immune health during infancy was associated with localized FC increases in the somatosensory, salience and basal ganglia networks. Together these findings suggest that HIV may affect brain development from its earliest stages and persist into childhood, despite early ART.