High efavirenz levels but not neurofilament light plasma levels are associated with poor neurocognitive functioning in asymptomatic HIV patients

Journal of neurovirology
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Hakkers CS, Hermans AM, van Maarseveen EM, Teunissen CE, Verberk IMW, Arends JE and Hoepelman AIM

 J. Neurovirol. (2020).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13365-020-00860-1

Abstract

The aim of this study is to assess the effect of efavirenz exposure on neurocognitive functioning and investigate plasma neurofilament light (Nfl) as a biomarker for neurocognitive damage. Sub-analysis of the ESCAPE-study, a randomised controlled trial where virologically suppressed, cognitively asymptomatic HIV patients were randomised (2:1) to switch to rilpivirine or continue on efavirenz. At baseline and week 12, patients underwent an extensive neuropsychological assessment (NPA), and serum efavirenz concentration and plasma Nfl levels were measured. Subgroups of elevated (≥ 4.0 mg/L) and therapeutic (0.74 to< 4.0 mg/L) baseline efavirenz concentration were made. Differences between these groups in baseline NPA Z-scores and in delta scores after efavirenz discontinuation were assessed. Nfl level was measured using an ELISA analysis using single molecule array (Simoa) technology. Correlation of plasma NFL with NPA Z-scores was evaluated using a linear mixed model. The elevated group consisted of 6 patients and the therapeutic group of 48. At baseline, the elevated group showed lower composite Z-scores (median − 1.03; IQR 0.87 versus 0.27; 0.79. p 0.02). This effect was also seen on the subdomains verbal (p 0.01), executive functioning (p 0.02), attention (p < 0.01) and speed (p 0.01). In the switch group, the elevated group improved more on composite scores after discontinuing efavirenz (mean 0.58; SD 0.32 versus 0.22; 0.54, p 0.15). No association between plasma Nfl and composite Z-score was found. High efavirenz exposure is associated with worse cognitive functioning compared with patients with therapeutic concentrations. Plasma Nfl is not a suitable biomarker to measure cognitive damage in this group.

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