Premature Aging Caused by Some HIV Drugs

A class of anti-retroviral drugs commonly used to treat HIV, particularly in Africa and low income countries, can cause premature aging, according to research published June 26 in the journal Nature Genetics. The study shows that the drugs damage DNA in the patient’s mitochondria — the ‘batteries’ which power their cells.

The findings may explain why HIV-infected people treated with antiretroviral drugs sometimes show advanced signs of frailty and age-associated diseases such as cardiovascular disease and dementia at an early age.

Nucleoside analogue reverse-transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) — of which the most well known is Zidovudine, also known as AZT — were the first class of drug developed to treat HIV. They were a major breakthrough in the treatment of the disease, greatly extending lifespan and leading the condition to be seen as a chronic, rather than terminal, condition.

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Artist’s rendering of mitochondria, showing internal structure of one. DNA in mitochondria can be damaged by a class of antiretroviral drugs. (Credit: © Mopic / Fotolia)

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