Background Lower muscle density on computed tomography (CT) provides a measure of fatty infiltration of muscle, an aspect of muscle quality that has been associated with metabolic abnormalities, weakness, decreased mobility, and increased fracture risk in older adults. We assessed the cross-sectional relationship between HIV serostatus, age, thigh muscle attenuation, and thigh muscle cross-sectional area (CSA). Methods Mean CT-quantified Hounsfield units (HU) of the thigh muscle bundle and CSA were evaluated in 368 HIV-infected and 145 HIV-uninfected men enrolled in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS) Cardiovascular Substudy using multivariable linear regression. Models all were adjusted for HIV serostatus, age, race, and body mass index (BMI); each model was further adjusted for covariates that differed by HIV serostatus, including insulin resistance, hepatitis C, malignancy, smoking, alcohol use, and self-reported limitation in physical activity. Results HIV-infected men had greater thigh muscle CSA (p<0.001) but lower muscle density (p<0.001) compared to HIV-uninfected men. Muscle density remained lower in HIV-infected men (p = 0.001) when abdominal visceral adiposity, and thigh subcutaneous adipose tissue area were substituted for BMI in a multivariable model. Muscle density decreased by 0.16 HU per year (p<0.001) of increasing age among the HIV-infected men, but not in the HIV-uninfected men (HIV x age interaction -0.20 HU; p = 0.002). Conclusion HIV-infected men had lower thigh muscle density compared to HIV-uninfected men, and a more pronounced decline with increasing age, indicative of greater fatty infiltration. These findings suggest that lower muscle quality among HIV-infected persons may be a risk factor for impairments in physical function with aging.
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