MicroRNAs (miRNAs) play important roles in regulating a plethora of physiological and pathophysiogical processes including neurodegeneration. In both HIV associated dementia in humans and its monkey model SIV encephalitis we find miR-21, a miRNA largely known for its link to oncogenesis, to be significantly upregulated in the brain. In situ hybridization of the diseased brain sections revealed induction of miR-21 in neurons. MiR-21 can be induced in neurons by prolonged N-methyl-D-aspartic acid receptor stimulation, an excitotoxic process active in HIV and other neurodegenerative diseases. Introduction of miR-21 into human neurons leads to pathological functional defects. Furthermore, we show that miR-21 specifically targets the mRNA of myocyte enhancer factor 2C (MEF2C), a transcription factor crucial for neuronal function, and reduces its expression. MEF2C is dramatically downregulated in neurons of HIV-associated dementia patients as well as monkeys with SIVE. Together, this study elucidates a novel role for miR-21 in the brain, not only as a potential signature of neurological disease but also as a crucial effector of HIV induced neuronal dysfunction and neurodegeneration.
Keywords: HIV; MEF2C; NMDA; SIV; dementia; monkey; neurodegeneration.