BACKGROUND: This study has been conducted on a series of HIV-1 infected children, with the aim of illustrating the features of encephalopathy onset, its evolution and its influence on life expectancy. The most useful exams for diagnosis are also outlined. METHODS: The perspective study lasted from January 1989 to June 1997. Forty six symptomatic patients, out of 142 seropositive children, were followed up in the Department of Paediatric and Adolescence Sciences of the University of Turin. The patients, now between 1 yr 2 mth and 13 yr 9 mth old, were born from HIV-1 seropositive mothers; seroreverters have been excluded. Scheduled neuropsychiatric consultations were used, consisting of a neurologic exam and an interview with parents, cognitive evaluations, EEGs, Evoked Potentials and CT scans. The results have been evaluated with log-rank test for the analysis of the survival curves. RESULTS: We found a significantly higher mortality rate in encephalopathic versus non encephalopathic patients; encephalopathic patients, in whom neurologic signs began in the first year of life, have a worse prognosis than the other patients, in whom encephalopathy appeared later. We did not find a statistical correlation between clinical course and immunological deficit. The clinical features of encephalopathy are mainly characterized by pyramidal signs and cognitive deterioration. Clinical sign evolution is linked to the age of encephalopathy onset: plateau pattern encephalopathy, characterized by an early onset, severe motor signs and cognitive delay from the very beginning, shows a greater severity and a shorter survival than progressive encephalopathy, characterized by a slowly progressive evolution of pyramidal signs, to which a cognitive deterioration may be added. CONCLUSIONS: Neuropsychological exams can be helpful in the diagnosis and follow-up of encephalopathy.
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