Objectives. To investigate the effect of HIV disease on the receptive and expressive language of children and the relationship between CT scan brain abnormalities and language functioning.

Methods. Thirty-six children (mean age, 5.5 years; range, 1 through 10 years; 75% vertical transmission; 58% classified as encephalopathic) with symptomatic HIV infection and 20 uninfected siblings (mean age, 7.8 years; range, 3 through 15 years) were administered an age-appropriate comprehensive language test assessing both receptive and expressive language (Reynell Developmental Language Scales or Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals—Revised). Each HIV-infected child had a CT scan of the brain as part of the baseline evaluation, which was rated independently and blindly by two neurologists, for presence and severity of brain abnormalities using a semiquantitative rating system.

Results. Expressive language was significantly more impaired than receptive language in the overall sample of HIV-infected children. The encephalopathic children scored significantly lower than the non-encephalopathic children, however, the degree of discrepancy between mean receptive and expressive language scores was not significantly different between these two groups. The uninfected sibling control group did not have a significant discrepancy between receptive and expressive language, and they scored significantly higher than the infected patient group. Greater severity of CT scan abnormalities was significantly correlated with poorer receptive and expressive language functioning in the overall HIV-infected sample and a higher discrepancy between receptive and expressive language in the encephalopathic group.

Conclusion. Pediatric HIV disease is associated with differential receptive and expressive language functioning in which expressive language is significantly more impaired than receptive language. The sibling data and CT scan correlations suggest that the observed language impairments are associated with the direct effects of HIV-related central nervous system disease.

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