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NIH to Fund Studies of Genetics of HIV-related Neurocognitive Disorder

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Institutes of Health plans to fund researchers seeking to find out more about the pathogenic mechanisms, including genetic and epigenetic factors, that are involved in neurocognitive disorders caused by or associated with HIV infection.

HIV-1 Associated Neurocognitive Disorders, or HAND, are highly prevalent. A recent large-scale study found the disorders in 47 percent of HIV infected individuals.

The categories of HAND-related neurocognitive complications are evolving, but the American Academy of Neurology has defined three types thus far: asymptomatic neurocognitive impairment, mild neurocognitive disorder, and HIV-associated dementia. While the milder disorder is the most prevalent, even this form can interfere with daily life and lower the quality of life for HIV-positive patients.

To address this, NIH wants to fund research to better understand the basis of HAND, as well as efforts to begin to preserve neurocognitive function for these patients.

These grants will fund a range of research approaches, including efforts focused on genetics and epigenetics, neuroimaging studies, research into exosomes and neuropathogenesis, and therapeutics.

HAND appears to be influenced by variants in the virus and the hosts, so new genomics technologies may make it possible to better understand its neuropathology and help investigators develop strategies for treating it, NIH said.

For these grants, NIH is encouraging researchers to use tools and approaches such as exome sequencing, ultra-deep sequencing, systems biology, whole-genome association studies, and similar methods to study and validate both viral and host genetic contributions to HIV neuropathogenesis.

These viral and host genetics projects could include studying the role of viral and genetic and epigenetic factors in the pathophysiology of HAND; conducting viral genetic or host epigenetic studies related to the maintenance of central nervous system latency and reservoirs; studying the molecular diversity of various HIV-1 genes; determining the role of host genetic and epigenetic factors that regulate the susceptibility to HAND; assessing the epigenetic host response to viral infection mediated through chromatin modification, noncoding RNAs, and DNA methylation; identifying viral and host genetic biomarkers; and other research areas.