Clinical infectious diseases : an official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America 65(6) 943-948 doi 10.1093/cid/cix473
Individuals infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) who have previously had syphilis may have cognitive impairment. We tested the hypothesis that neurosyphilis causes cognitive impairment in HIV by amplifying HIV-related central nervous system (CNS) inflammation.
HIV-infected participants enrolled in a study of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) abnormalities in syphilis underwent the mental alternation test (MAT), venipuncture, and lumbar puncture. CSF concentrations of chemokine (C-X-C motif) ligand 10 (CXCL10), chemokine (C-C motif) ligand 2 (CCL2), and neurofilament light (NFL) were determined by commercial assays. The proportion of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and of CSF white blood cells (WBCs) that were activated monocytes (CD14+CD16+) was determined by flow cytometry. Neurosyphilis was defined as detection of Treponema pallidum 16S RNA in CSF or CSF white blood cells (WBCs) >20/uL or a reactive CSF-Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) test; uncomplicated syphilis was defined as undetectable CSF T. pallidum, CSF WBCs ≤5/uL and nonreactive CSF-VDRL. MAT <18 was considered low. Results
Median proportion of PBMCs that were activated monocytes (16.6 vs. 5.3), and median CSF CXCL10 (10658 vs. 2530 units), CCL2 (519 vs. 337 units) and HIV RNA (727 vs. 50 c/mL) were higher in neurosyphilis than in uncomplicated syphilis (P ≤ .001 for all comparisons). Neurosyphilis was not related to low MAT scores. Participants with low MAT scores had higher median CSF CXCL10 (10299 vs. 3650 units, P = .008) and CCL2 (519 vs. 365 units, P = .04) concentrations than those with high MAT scores.
Neurosyphilis may augment HIV-associated CNS inflammation, but it does not explain cognitive impairment in HIV-infected individuals with syphilis.