Background: HIV infection elicits the onset of a progressive immunodeficiency and also damages several other organs and tissues such as the CNS, kidney, heart, blood vessels, adipose tissue and bone. In particular, HIV infection has been related to an increased incidence of cardiovascular diseases and derangement in the structure of blood vessels in the absence of classical risk factors. The recent characterization of multipotent mesenchymal cells in the vascular wall, involved in regulating cellular homeostasis, suggests that these cells may be considered a target of HIV pathogenesis. This paper investigated the interaction between HIV-1 and vascular wall resident human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs).
Results: MSCs were challenged with classical R5 and X4 HIV-1 laboratory strains demonstrating that these strains are able to enter and integrate their retro-transcribed proviral DNA in the host cell genome. Subsequent experiments indicated that HIV-1 strains and recombinant gp120 elicited a reliable increase in apoptosis in sub-confluent MSCs. Since vascular wall MSCs are multipotent cells that may be differentiated towards several cell lineages, we challenged HIV-1 strains and gp120 on MSCs differentiated to adipogenesis and endotheliogenesis. Our experiments showed that the adipogenesis is increased especially by upregulated PPARγ activity whereas the endothelial differentiation induced by VEGF treatment was impaired with a downregulation of endothelial markers such as vWF, Flt-1 and KDR expression. These viral effects in MSC survival and adipogenic or endothelial differentiation were tackled by CD4 blockade suggesting an important role of CD4/gp120 interaction in this context.
Conclusions: The HIV-related derangement of MSC survival and differentiation may suggest a direct role of HIV infection and gp120 in impaired vessel homeostasis and in genesis of vessel damage observed in HIV-infected patients.