Thinning of the cerebral cortex visualized in HIV/AIDS reflects CD4 + T lymphocyte decline

Paul M. Thompson, Rebecca A. Dutton, Kiralee M. Hayashi, Arthur W. Toga, Oscar L. Lopez, Howard J. Aizenstein, James T. Becker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

265 Scopus citations


HIV/AIDS infection is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, and one in every 100 adults aged 15-49 years is HIV-infected. Forty percent of AIDS patients suffer from neurological symptoms, but the selective profile of damage caused by HIV in the brain is not well understood. Here, we report 3D maps revealing how AIDS affects the human cerebral cortex, identifying the most vulnerable regions and where deficits link with cognitive decline and immunesystem suppression. With high-resolution brain MRI scans, we created composite maps of cortical gray-matter thickness in 26 AIDS patients and 14 healthy controls to establish the selective pattern of brain deficits in AIDS. In AIDS, primary sensory, motor, and premotor cortices were 15% thinner. Thinner frontopolar and language cortex correlated with immune system deterioration measured through blood levels of CD4+ T lymphocytes. Prefrontal and parietal tissue loss correlated with cognitive/motor deficits. T cell depletion and cognitive impairment are, therefore, associated with specific 3D brain-deficit patterns visualized with MRI. These quantitative MRI-based maps reveal that HIV selectively damages the cortex. They provide an approach to gauge the impact of AIDS on the living brain and show that the brain is still vulnerable to infection even when patients are receiving antiretroviral therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15647-15652
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number43
StatePublished - 25 Oct 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Brain
  • Disease
  • Immunity
  • MRI
  • T cell


Dive into the research topics of 'Thinning of the cerebral cortex visualized in HIV/AIDS reflects CD4 + T lymphocyte decline'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this