A positive affect intervention alters leukocyte DNA methylation in sexual minority men with HIV who use methamphetamine

Adam W. Carrico, Emily M. Cherenack, Annesa Flentje, Judith T. Moskowitz, Kesava Asam, Delaram Ghanooni, Jennifer V. Chavez, Torsten B. Neilands, Samantha E. Dilworth, Leah H. Rubin, Hetta Gouse, Dietmar Fuchs, Robert H. Paul, Bradley E. Aouizerat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: This epigenomics sub-study embedded within a randomized controlled trial examined whether an evidenced-based behavioral intervention model that decreased stimulant use altered leukocyte DNA methylation (DNAm). Methods: Sexual minority men with HIV who use methamphetamine were randomized to a five-session positive affect intervention (n = 32) or an attention-control condition (n = 21), both delivered during three months of contingency management for stimulant abstinence. All participants exhibited sustained HIV virologic control – an HIV viral load less than 40 copies/mL at baseline and six months post-randomization. The Illumina EPIC BeadChip measured leukocyte methylation of cytosine-phosphate-guanosine (CpG) sites mapping onto five a priori candidate genes of interest (i.e., ADRB2, BDNF, FKBP5, NR3C1, OXTR). Functional DNAm pathways and soluble markers of immune dysfunction were secondary outcomes. Results: Compared to the attention-control condition, the positive affect intervention significantly decreased methylation of CpG sites on genes that regulate β2 adrenergic and oxytocin receptors. There was an inconsistent pattern for the direction of the intervention effects on methylation of CpG sites on genes for glucocorticoid receptors and brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Pathway analyses adjusting for the false discovery rate (padj < 0.05) revealed significant intervention-related alterations in DNAm of Reactome pathways corresponding to neural function as well as dopamine, glutamate, and serotonin release. Positive affect intervention effects on DNAm were accompanied by significant reductions in the self-reported frequency of stimulant use. Conclusions: There is an epigenetic signature of an evidence-based behavioral intervention model that reduced stimulant use, which will guide the identification of biomarkers for treatment responses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)151-158
Number of pages8
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - Aug 2024


  • Contingency management
  • DNA methylation
  • HIV
  • Men who have sex with Men
  • Methamphetamine
  • Oxytocin
  • Positive affect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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