A commonly used class of antiretroviral drugs used to treat patients with HIV, particularly in Africa, appears to speed up
aging by causing natural mutations in mitochondrial DNA to accumulate faster, mirroring those present in people who age
normally. You can read about the research behind this finding in this week's online issue of Nature Genetics
Professor Patrick Chinnery from Newcastle University in the UK, and colleagues, suggest that treatment with nucleoside
analogue anti-retrovirals (NRTIs) does not accelerate aging by generating new mutations of mitochondrial DNA, but most
probably by accelerating turnover of mitochondrial DNA.
Clinicians are noticing that people with HIV who are treated with antiretroviral drugs sometimes show premature signs of aging,
such as increased frailty, and age-related diseases like cardiovascular
disease and dementia. But they have few clues as to why,
as Chinnery, who is a Wellcome Senior Fellow in Clinical Science from the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle
University, told the press:
"HIV clinics were seeing patients who had otherwise been successfully treated but who showed signs of being much older than
their years. This was a real mystery. But colleagues recognised many similarities with patients affected by mitochondrial diseases
- conditions that affect energy production in our cells - and referred them to our clinic."
Some of the patients referred to their clinic were being treated with a class of antiretroviral called NRTI, short for nucleoside
analogue reverse-transcriptase inhibitors, the most well-known of which is Zidovudine
, also known as AZT. (NRTIs are also used
in the treatment of cancer
NRTIs were the first class of drug developed to treat HIV, and at the time were regarded as a major breakthrough in anit-HIV
treatment, giving patients the hope of longer life and changing our view of HIV from a terminal to a chronic condition.