Neuronal accumulation of hyperphosphorylated tau protein predicts stable memory impairment in people living with HIV

Jairo Gonzalez, Alyssa Wilson, Desiree Byrd, Etty P. Cortes, John F. Crary, Susan Morgello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objectives:As lifespans increase in people with HIV (PWH), there is concern that age-related neurodegenerative disorders may contribute to cognitive decline. We asked whether brain accumulation of Alzheimer's disease (AD)-associated proteins amyloid-beta (Aβ) and hyperphosphorylated tau (p-tau) predicted cognitive performance in middle-aged PWH.Methods:In a prospectively followed, cognitively-characterized autopsy sample of 135 PWH, we used immunohistochemistry to assess Aβ plaques and neuronal p-tau in medial temporal and lateral frontal lobes. These pathologies were tested for associations with cognitive performance in seven domains: motor, speed of information processing, working memory, memory encoding, memory retrieval, verbal fluency, and abstraction/executive function. Univariate and multivariate analyses accounting for HIV-associated variables, reading level, and comorbidities were conducted. Longitudinal trajectories of memory functions were evaluated in 60 individuals with a median follow-up of 6.0 years.Results:In this population with mean age 51.4 ± 0.9 years, 58% displayed neuronal p-tau and 29% Aβ plaques. Neuronal p-tau, but not Aβ, predicted worse memory encoding and retrieval, but not other cognitive functions. With an ordinal hierarchy of neuronal p-tau locations (entorhinal, hippocampal, neocortical), decreased memory performance correlated with neocortical distribution. Memory function trajectories could not be distinguished between individuals with and without neuronal p-tau, and over 80% of the sample showed no change over time.Conclusion:In this middle-aged sample, neuronal p-tau accumulation contributes to memory deficits, but is not associated with accelerated decline in function over time. In the absence of AD-like deterioration, other etiologies for neuronal p-tau in cognitively impaired PWH must be considered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1247-1256
Number of pages10
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2023


  • HIV
  • cognition
  • hyperphosphorylated tau
  • memory


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