HIV Accelerates Cellular Ageing, Antiretrovirals Slow It: Study

A recent Swiss study delved into the impact of untreated HIV and antiretroviral treatment on cellular ageing, utilizing epigenetic clocks to measure these effects. The findings shed light on the relationship between untreated HIV, antiretroviral therapy, and cellular ageing. This article presents a paraphrased overview of the study’s discoveries and their significance in understanding ageing processes among individuals with HIV.
Aging and HIV

The Connection Between Untreated HIV and Accelerated Ageing

Untreated HIV infection has long been associated with various health complications. However, this study reveals an additional concern: untreated HIV speeds up the ageing process significantly. Researchers discovered that each year without antiretroviral treatment equated to an accelerated ageing effect of up to six months. This emphasizes the importance of early detection and prompt initiation of antiretroviral therapy.

Understanding Epigenetic Clocks

Epigenetics plays a vital role in regulating gene expression and can be influenced by environmental factors such as stress, smoking, diet, and sleep. DNA methylation, which provides insights into cellular ageing, can detect these epigenetic changes. Epigenetic clocks, advanced tools for measuring epigenetic age, help differentiate chronological age from the biological effects of various stressors on the body.

The Swiss Study: Design and Results

The Swiss study examined samples from 80 individuals who had lived with HIV for around 15 years before commencing antiretroviral treatment. Multiple samples were collected at different time points: before treatment initiation and after reaching viral suppression. Researchers utilized five distinct epigenetic clocks to evaluate the rate of epigenetic ageing.

Accelerated Epigenetic Ageing During Untreated HIV Phase

The analysis of the data revealed that during the period of untreated HIV infection, all epigenetic clocks, except GrimAge, indicated accelerated epigenetic ageing compared to chronological age. The pace of epigenetic ageing varied across the different clocks, resulting in an additional 0.36 to 0.69 years of accelerated ageing for each chronological year. Intriguingly, a correlation was observed between accelerated epigenetic ageing and an increase in CD8 cells, which are vital for immune responses.

Impact of Antiretroviral Treatment on Epigenetic Ageing

Upon achieving viral suppression through antiretroviral treatment, a significant reduction in the rate of epigenetic ageing was observed. Although the reduction was modest, ranging from -0.26 to -0.49 years on most clocks, it signifies a positive effect of antiretroviral therapy on cellular ageing. Notably, one clock indicated that a greater increase in CD4 cells, another crucial component of the immune system, corresponded to a larger reduction in the pace of epigenetic ageing.

Suppressive ART as the Key Intervention

The study’s findings underscore the critical role of suppressive antiretroviral therapy in enhancing the biological ageing process in individuals with HIV. When HIV infection is effectively controlled through treatment, the measured epigenetic age tends to align with the person’s chronological age. However, the GrimAge clock displayed different outcomes, potentially due to its reduced sensitivity to changes in leukocyte composition, which can be influenced by HIV infection.

Future Directions and Implications

While the study provides valuable insights into the relationship between HIV, antiretroviral treatment, and cellular ageing, further research is warranted. Identifying the most accurate epigenetic clocks for measuring cellular ageing in individuals with HIV is crucial. Additionally, larger population studies are necessary to establish correlations between epigenetic changes and clinical outcomes, including cardiovascular events, frailty, and healthy ageing. Such investigations can drive targeted interventions and enhance healthcare strategies for individuals living with HIV.


The Swiss study offers valuable insights into the consequences of untreated HIV and antiretroviral treatment on cellular ageing. It emphasizes the accelerated ageing effect caused by untreated HIV and the positive impact of suppressive antiretroviral therapy in slowing down or even reversing this process. Epigenetic clocks serve as valuable tools in comprehending the intricate relationship between HIV and cellular ageing. Further exploration of these connections can aid in optimizing treatment strategies and promoting healthy ageing among individuals with HIV.