Tetrahydrocannabinol suppresses immune function and enhances HIV replication in the huPBL-SCID mouse

Life Sci. 2005 Aug 19;77(14):1711-22. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2005.05.014.


Epidemiologic studies identify marijuana as a potential cofactor in the development and progression of HIV infection. To evaluate this interaction we employed a hybrid model in which human peripheral blood leukocytes (PBL) were implanted into severe combined immunodeficient mice (huPBL-SCID) and infected with an HIV reporter construct in the presence or absence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) exposure. Administration of THC alone, in the absence of HIV, decreased CD4 counts and the CD4:CD8 ratio. Co-administration of THC and HIV did not reduce CD4 counts further, but significantly increased the percentage of HIV-infected PBL when compared to saline-treated animals (17+/-4.6% vs. 7+/-1.4%). Quantitative PCR confirmed a 50-fold increase in systemic viral load in THC-treated animals. The CCR5 and CXCR4 chemokine receptors function as coreceptors essential for HIV infection. Administration of THC for 5 days increased the percentage of PBL expressing CCR5 and, to a lesser extent, CXCR4. This effect was lost after 10 days of THC administration, but the number of HIV-infected cells had significantly increased by that time suggesting a role for early upregulation of these coreceptors in the pathogenic effect of THC. Finally, the impact of treatment on the number of human interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) producing cells was determined by ELISPOT. Both THC and HIV infection independently decreased the number of IFN-gamma producing cells and co-administration produced additive effects. These results suggest that exposure to THC in vivo can suppress immune function, increase HIV coreceptor expression, and act as a cofactor to significantly enhance HIV replication.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / immunology
  • CD4-CD8 Ratio
  • Dronabinol / toxicity*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • HIV / drug effects*
  • HIV / physiology
  • HIV Infections / immunology*
  • HIV Infections / virology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity / drug effects*
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Leukocytes
  • Mice
  • Mice, SCID
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Receptors, CCR5 / metabolism
  • Receptors, CXCR4 / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • Viral Load
  • Virus Replication / drug effects*
  • Virus Replication / physiology


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Receptors, CCR5
  • Receptors, CXCR4
  • Dronabinol
  • Interferon-gamma