HIV and the gut microbiome: a newly published study in renowned academic journal

Can the gut microbiome tell us something about increases in noncommunicable diseases in people with HIV? Two of AIGHD’s PhD students, Ornella Sortino and Eveline Verheij, with NIH intramural AIDS Research Fellow Ivan Vujkovic-Cvijin, and supervised by Prof. Peter Reiss, Dr. Irini Sereti and others at the NIH, report their findings in a recently published article titled HIV-associated gut dysbiosis is independent of sexual practice and correlates with noncommunicable diseases.

While effective antiretroviral therapy has contributed to the prolonged survival of people with HIV, they continue to experience higher rates of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) compared to those living without HIV. A team of researchers has investigated how patterns of the gut microbiome may contribute to higher rates of NCDs. The resulting article has been published in the esteemed journal, Nature Communications.

It is widely understood in the medical field that even after ARV treatment, people with HIV are more susceptible to noncommunicable age-related diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and lung diseases. There has also been the idea within the field of HIV research that the gut microbiome may contribute to this increase. While these bacteria in the gut are necessary to help us digest food and absorb energy, the gut microbiome is the main source of foreign microbes that we interact with during our lives. Could the bacteria, fungi and enzymes that live in the gut microbiome increase susceptibility to NCDs? How do differences in gut microbiome patterns in people with HIV change how their immune system works? There have been studies exploring this idea, however, the data on HIV-associated inflammation of the gut microbiome has been incomplete.

Using a subset of the AGEhIV Cohort, an AIGHD project led by Prof. Peter Reiss, the team of researchers explored how the gut microbiome is different in people with HIV, and the extent to which it may correlate with the increase in inflammatory diseases. They discovered that people with HIV had a range of microbiome disturbances, and that this range shows a correlation with how many age-related noncommunicable diseases they had experienced. While this is a key finding in their study, the team took their research a step further. In previous studies, researchers were comparing the gut microbiomes of HIV-infected men who have sex with men (MSM) with non-infected heterosexual men. However, recent studies had uncovered sexual practice as a major source of microbiota variation. In order to have a more direct comparison, this paper compared the gut microbiome of MSM with HIV to uninfected MSM, heterosexual men with HIV to uninfected heterosexual men, and heterosexual women with HIV to uninfected heterosexual women. This more direct comparison clearly revealed significant gut microbiota differences among all groups with HIV, regardless of sex and sexual practice.

Congratulations to the researchers involved in this publication for their hard work and dedication.