The association of memory disorders and chronic HIV disease in the antiretroviral therapy era: a systematic literature review

E Ripamonti, M Clerici
HIV Medicine 2020, 21 (1): 9-20

OBJECTIVES: Despite recent pharmacological progress, memory impairment is still frequently reported in people living with HIV. We aimed to conduct a systematic literature review investigating the presence of impairment of (sub)components of memory function in patients prescribed highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART).

METHODS: We adopted a cognitive neuropsychological model of memory function as the theoretical framework, distinguishing between a short-term working memory component and a long-term component of memory, along with their specific (sub)components. We systematically searched for the presence of impairment of each (sub)component in the selected papers. Careful consideration was given to study design and methods and control of covariates.

RESULTS: Only the central executive component of working memory has been consistently reported to be impaired in HIV infection. The other two (sub)components, namely the phonological loop and the visuospatial sketchpad, were unimpaired. Discordant results have been obtained as to verbal and visual episodic memory, as some authors reported an association with HIV infection, whereas others did not. There is little evidence for semantic memory deficit in HIV infection, while there are suggestions that the neural substrate of implicit memory may be damaged by the effects of HIV infection and inflammation. Most studies in this area have been conducted in small samples and with poor control for covariates. Thus, conclusions regarding the association of memory dysfunction with HIV infection are hampered by methodological issues such as selection bias and unmeasured confounding.

CONCLUSIONS: The task remains for future research to ascertain the impact of HIV infection on memory function.

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