Neuroimaging elucidations have shown structural and functional brain alterations in HIV-infected (HIV ) individuals when compared to HIV-negative (HIV–) controls. However, HIV− groups used in previous studies were not specifically considered for sexual orientation, which also affects the brain structures and functions. The current study aimed to characterize the brain alterations associated with HIV infection while controlling for sexual orientation.
Forty-three HIV and 40 HIV– homosexual men (HoM) were recruited and underwent resting-state MRI scanning. Group differences in gray matter volume (GMV) were assessed using a voxel-based morphometry analysis. Brain regions with the altered GMV in the HIV HoM group were then taken as regions of interest in a seed-based analysis to identify altered functional connectivity. Furthermore, the amplitude of low-frequency fluctuation (ALFF) and regional homogeneity values were compared between the two groups to evaluate the HIV-associated functional abnormalities in local brain regions.
HIV HoM showed significantly increased GMV in the bilateral parahippocampal gyrus and amygdala, and decreased GMV in the right inferior cerebellum, compared with the HIV– HoM. The brain regions with increased GMV were hyper-connected with the left superior cerebellum, right lingual gyrus, and left precuneus in the HIV HoM. Moreover, the ALFF values of the right fusiform gyrus, and left parahippocampal gyrus were increased in the HIV HoM. The regional homogeneity values of the right anterior cingulate and paracingulate gyri, and left superior cerebellum were decreased in the HIV HoM.
When the study population was restricted to HoM, HIV individuals exhibited structural alterations in the limbic system and cerebellum, and functional abnormalities in the limbic, cerebellum, and visual network. These findings complement the existing knowledge on the HIV-associated neurocognitive impairment from the previous neuroimaging studies by controlling for the potential confounding factor, sexual orientation. Future studies on brain alternations with the exclusion of related factors like sexual orientation are needed to understand the impact of HIV infection on neurocognitive function more accurately.