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Mechanisms of HIV Neuropathogenesis Program


This program supports research focused on understanding the pathogenic mechanisms involved in HIV-1 associated central nervous system (CNS) dysfunction worldwide. HIV-1 enters the CNS in the acute stages of infection and despite antiretroviral therapy (ART), a significant proportion of the infected population develop mild to moderate CNS impairments. This program encourages both basic and clinical research to better understand the factors, mechanisms and pathways involved in the pathogenesis of HIV-1 associated CNS dysfunction. Further, the program encourages the use of state-of-the-art approaches derived from the fields of molecular biology, neurophysiology, neuroimaging, virology, neurology, immunology, neuropsychology, and epidemiology.

Areas of Emphasis

  • Basic research on HIV-1 associated CNS dysfunction focusing on neuronal receptors, neural activity, neuronal circuits, neuronal networks and synapto-dendritic damage using models with clinically relevant outcomes.
  • Clinical studies to adapt existing diagnostic neuroimaging and electrophysiology-based methods to study neuronal networks and circuits that are specifically compromised in HIV-1 associated CNS dysfunction.
  • Understand the mechanisms and pathways modulating patterns of HIV-1 associated CNS symptomatology by deconstructing the multimodal readouts of CNS impairments observed in the current era in patients on ART.
  • Examine the role of factors like gender, cognitive reserve, chronicity of infection, aging, vascular disease, viral reservoirs, co-infections, legacy effects, and coexisting psychiatric conditions in causality of HIV-1 associated CNS dysfunction.
  • Develop newer assessment practices including but not limited to computerized assessments, biological markers, and advanced neuroimaging techniques to get to a more definitive and palpable diagnosis of HIV-1 associated CNS impairment using the RDoC framework.
  • Identify molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying neurological impairment both in acute/early HIV-1 infection as well as chronic HIV-1 infection, in addition to assessing the impact on early initiation of treatment on long term neurological outcomes.


Vasudev R. Rao, M.B.B.S., M.S.
5601 Fishers Ln, Room 9G27
Rockville, MD 20852