J Neurovirol. 2022 Jun 19. doi: 10.1007/s13365-022-01078-z. Online ahead of print.
Based on the available literature, women living with HIV (WLWH) seem to show greater cognitive and emotional disadvantages than men living with HIV (MLWH). Our aim was to compare the cognitive performance of MLWH and WLWH in an Italian cohort of People Living With HIV (PLWH) and to analyse factors potentially contributing to sex differences in cognitive function. We ran a retrospective, cross-sectional analysis of a monocentric dataset of PLWH who were administered a standardized neuropsychological test battery (SNB) during routine clinical care. We enrolled 161 Italian PLWH who are on combined antiretroviral therapy (cART): 114 (70.8%) MLWH and 47 (29.2%) WLWH.Global cognitive performance (composite z score) (GCP) was significantly higher in MLWH than WLWH [mean 0.19 (SD 0.85) vs – 0.13 (SD 0.96); p = 0.039]. Moreover, WLWH obtained significantly higher scores on the Zung Depression Scale than MLWH [mean 41.8 (SD 10.9) vs 36.7 (SD 9.2); p = 0.003]. However, there was no statistically significant direct effect between male sex and better GCP (p = 0.692) in the context of a mediation model. On the contrary, the associations between male sex and better GCP were mediated by higher level of education (a*b = + 0.15, Bootstrap CI95 = 0.05 and 0.27) and a lower Zung depression score (a*b = + 0.10, Bootstrap CI95 = 0.02 and 0.21).In conclusion, the global cognitive performance of WLWH is lower than that of MLWH. However, other demographic and clinical factors besides sex might help explain differences in their neurocognitive functions and make it possible for us to monitor them and identify those patients most in need.