Brain N -acetyl-aspartyl-glutamate is associated with cognitive function in older virally suppressed people with HIV

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Objectives:Cognitive impairment persists in virally suppressed people with HIV (VS-PWH) especially in higher order domains. One cortical circuit, linked to these domains, is regulated by N-acetyl-aspartyl glutamate (NAAG), the endogenous agonist of the metabotropic glutamate receptor 3. The enzyme glutamate carboxypeptidase II (GCPII) catabolizes NAAG and is upregulated in aging and disease. Inhibition of GCPII increases brain NAAG and improves learning and memory in rodent and primate models.Design:As higher order cognitive impairment is present in VS-PWH, and NAAG has not been investigated in earlier magnetic resonance spectroscopy studies (MRS), we investigated if brain NAAG levels measured by MRS were associated with cognitive function.Methods:We conducted a retrospective analysis of 7-Tesla MRS data from a previously published study on cognition in older VS-PWH. The original study did not separately quantify NAAG, therefore, work for this report focused on relationships between regional NAAG levels in frontal white matter (FWM), left hippocampus, left basal ganglia and domain-specific cognitive performance in 40 VS-PWH after adjusting for confounds. Participants were older than 50 years, negative for affective and neurologic disorders, and had no prior 3-month psychoactive-substance use.Results:Higher NAAG levels in FWM were associated with better attention/working memory. Higher left basal ganglia NAAG related to better verbal fluency. There was a positive relationship between hippocampal NAAG and executive function which lost significance after correction for confounds.Conclusion:These data suggest brain NAAG serves as a biomarker of cognition in VS-PWH. Pharmacological modulation of brain NAAG warrants investigation as a therapeutic approach for cognitive deficits in VS-PWH.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1003-1011
Number of pages9
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 1 2024


  • N -acetyl-aspartyl glutamate
  • cognition
  • glutamate
  • glutamate carboxypeptidase II
  • mGluR3
  • magnetic resonance spectroscopy
  • neuro-HIV

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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