Between 1987 and 1992 we performed forensic-pathologic and neuropathologic examinations on 70 cases of i.v. drug addicts who died of an overdose. In almost 25% of the cases HIV-positivity was revealed by serological examinations. In all the cases, irrespective of the result of the serological examination, a diffuse, reactive astrocytosis was the most prominent histologic alteration, accompanied by more or less pronounced regressive changes of this cell type in the deep layers of the white matter. Furthermore, also in all the cases, a slight to moderate, reactive proliferation of microglia could be assessed. In a few cases of the HIV-seropositive group a lymphocytic meningitis, viz. meningoencephalitis was found; these changes may indicate an early invasion of the central nervous system (CNS) by the HIV. In spite of these inflammatory alterations, in the latter cases no HIV-specific antigens (p24 and gp41) could be demonstrated in the brain, most probably because of the small number of infectious particles. In order to reveal the earliest phase of invasion of the CNS by the HIV, we performed a search for HIV-specific nucleic acid sequences by the aid of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in 8 HIV-seronegative and 8 normal control cases. Although, most probably due to contamination, also the control cases exhibited some PCR-signals, these were more pronounced and appeared with more primer-pairs within the group of HIV-seronegative drug addicts. It is conceivable that HIV penetrates the CNS and is harboured in it in latent form shortly after the primary infection. This organ is, to a certain degree, isolated from and protected against the activity of the immune system by the blood barrier. Additionally, both HIV-infection and opiates have an immunosuppressive effect, so that the i.v. drug addicts are double endangered against all kinds of infections. These circumstances are advantageous for the persistence of HIV-infection within the brain.
- Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
- Central nervous system (CNS)
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Intravenous drug addiction
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)