Elevated homocysteine levels may moderate and mediate the association between HIV and cognitive impairment among middle-aged and older adults in an underserved population in Baltimore, Maryland

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



International journal of STD & AIDS








HIV infection; HIV-associated neurocognitive impairment; NIH toolbox cognition battery (NIHTB-CB); causal mediation analysis; cocaine use; elevated homocysteine levels


In the antiretroviral therapy (ART) era, HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) remain a considerable challenge for people with HIV, yet not all such disorders can be attributed to HIV alone. This study aimed to: (1) identify factors influencing neurocognitive impairment (NCI) utilizing the NIH Toolbox Cognition Battery (NIHTB-CB) as per the revised research criteria for HAND; (2) ascertain the moderating role of high homocysteine levels in the association between NCI and HIV; and (3) assess the mediating effect of elevated homocysteine levels on this association. We analyzed data from 788 adults (≥45 years) participating in a study on HIV-related comorbidities in underserved Baltimore communities, using NIHTB-CB to gauge neurocognitive performance. Special attention was given to results from the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS) test within the executive function domain during causal mediation analysis. Overall, HIV was not associated with NCI presence. However, HIV was associated with NCI among individuals with homocysteine >14 μmol/L. Furthermore, HIV was both directly and indirectly associated with NCI in DCCS test scores. Notably, the mediating role of elevated homocysteine in DCCS scores was only observable among individuals who had never used cocaine or had used it for ≤ 10 years, suggesting that extended cocaine use may have a substantial influence on cognitive performance. The findings from this study suggest elevated homocysteine levels may moderate and mediate the association between HIV and neurocognitive impairment.


Microbiology, Immunology, and Tropical Medicine