Lerner Research Institute News

Read about the latest advances from Lerner Research Institute scientists, including new findings, grant awards, innovations and collaborations.

NIH Grant to Study Iron Dysregulation and Neuropsychiatric Disorders in People with HIV

Dr. Kallianpur’s team will investigate the role of iron in depression and cognitive impairment in people with HIV.


Asha Kallianpur, MD, MPH, Genomic Medicine Institute, received a five-year, $2.4 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, part of the National Institutes of Health, to study how iron contributes to the development of depression and cognitive impairment in people with HIV.

People treated for HIV experience an unusually high prevalence of mood disorders and impaired cognitive function, which reduces medication adherence, quality of life and functional status while increasing the risk of frailty and death. Furthermore, these disorders often co-occur, suggesting one or more shared underlying mechanisms that may be targetable by novel therapeutic strategies. Effective treatment for HIV-associated cognitive impairment is currently lacking, and depression is often more severe and treatment-resistant.

This new grant will build upon earlier findings from Dr. Kallianpur’s team that linked HIV-related changes in key iron transporters to depression and cognitive decline in people with HIV. Iron transport is essential for balanced production of the brain chemicals involved in mood and cognition and for the formation of myelin, which helps transmit nerve impulses in the brain.

“Successful completion of this project will help us determine whether changes in iron transporters and genes that control iron metabolism—what I call the ‘ferrome’—can predict depressive symptoms and cognitive decline in people with HIV,” said Dr. Kallianpur.

She and her team will be leveraging existing clinical data as well as stored serum, cerebrospinal fluid and genome-wide datasets from three large, prospective HIV cohorts (totaling more than 5,000 people with and without HIV and including unprecedented numbers of women) to investigate how iron and iron-related-gene networks influence development of neuropsychiatric disorders.

“Our findings should lead to an improved understanding of the mechanisms driving these inflammatory complications in people with and without HIV, and hopefully also point the way to novel, effective treatment approaches," said Dr. Kallianpur. 

This project represents a major collaboration between Dr. Kallianpur’s team and HIV experts and neuroscientists at Johns Hopkins University, the University of California-San Diego, Vanderbilt University and other sites.

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