NeuroImage. Clinical 2017 11 2117() 659-666 doi 10.1016/j.nicl.2017.11.018
HIV infection is known to be associated with brain volume loss, even in optimally treated patients. In this study, we assessed whether dynamic brain volume changes over time are predictive of neurobehavorial performance in the HIV-1 transgenic (Tg) rat, a model of treated HIV-positive patients.
Materials and methods
Cross-sectional brain MRI imaging was first performed comparing Tg and wild type (WT) rats at 3 and 19 months of age. Longitudinal MRI and neurobehavioral testing of another group of Tg and WT rats was then performed from 5 to 23 weeks of age. Whole brain and subregional image segmentation was used to assess the rate of brain growth over time. We used repeated-measures mixed models to assess differences in brain volumes and to establish how predictive the volume differences are of specific neurobehavioral deficits.
Cross-sectional imaging showed smaller whole brain volumes in Tg compared to WT rats at 3 and at 19 months of age. Longitudinally, Tg brain volumes were smaller than age-matched WT rats at all time points, starting as early as 5 weeks of age. The Tg striatal growth rate delay between 5 and 9 weeks of age was greater than that of the whole brain. Striatal volume in combination with genotype was the most predictive of rota-rod scores and in combination with genotype and age was the most predictive of total exploratory activity scores in the Tg rats.
The disproportionately delayed striatal growth compared to whole brain between 5 and 9 weeks of age and the role of striatal volume in predicting neurobehavioral deficits suggest an important role of the dopaminergic system in HIV associated neuropathology. This might explain problems with motor coordination and executive decisions in this animal model. Smaller brain and subregional volumes and neurobehavioral deficits were seen as early as 5 weeks of age, suggesting an early brain insult in the Tg rat. Neuroprotective therapy testing in this model should thus target this early stage of development, before brain damage becomes irreversible.