Elevated stress is associated with prefrontal cortex dysfunction during a verbal memory task in women with HIV

Leah H. Rubin, Minjie Wu, Erin E. Sundermann, Vanessa J. Meyer, Rachael Smith, Kathleen M. Weber, Mardge H. Cohen, Deborah M. Little, Pauline M. Maki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


HIV-infected women may be particularly vulnerable to verbal learning and memory deficits. One factor contributing to these deficits is high perceived stress, which is associated with prefrontal cortical (PFC) atrophy and memory outcomes sensitive to PFC function, including retrieval and semantic clustering. We examined the association between stress and PFC activation during a verbal memory task in 36 HIV-infected women from the Chicago Consortium of the Women’s Interagency HIV Study (WIHS) to better understand the role of the PFC in this stress-related impairment. Participants completed standardized measures of verbal learning and memory and stress (perceived stress scale-10). We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to assess brain function while participants completed encoding and recognition phases of a verbal memory task. HIV-infected women with higher stress (scores in top tertile) performed worse on all verbal memory outcomes including strategic encoding (p &#lt; 0.05) compared to HIV-infected women with lower stress (scores in lower two tertiles). Patterns of brain activation during recognition (but not encoding) differed between women with higher vs. lower stress. During recognition, women with higher stress demonstrated greater deactivation in medial PFC and posterior cingulate cortex compared to women with lower stress (p &#lt; 0.05). Greater deactivation in medial PFC marginally related to less efficient strategic retrieval (p = 0.06). Similar results were found in analyses focusing on PTSD symptoms. Results suggest that stress might alter the function of the medial PFC in HIV-infected women resulting in less efficient strategic retrieval and deficits in verbal memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)840-851
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of neurovirology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • HIV
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Stress
  • Verbal memory
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Virology


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