HIV infection affects the central nervous system resulting in HIV associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND), which is characterized by depression, behavioral and motor dysfunctions. The HIV-1 viral envelope protein gp120 is known to induce the release of neurotoxic factors which lead to apoptotic cell death. Although the exact mechanisms involved in HIV-1 gp120-induced neurotoxicity are not completely understood, oxidative stress is suggested to play a vital role in the neuropathogenesis of HAND. Astrocytes represent major population of the non-neuronal cell type in the brain and play a critical role in the neuropathogenesis of HAND. Increased oxidative stress is known to induce nuclear factor erythroid derived 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2), a basic leucine zipper transcription factor which is known to regulate the antioxidant defensive mechanism. However, the role of Nrf2 in HAND has not been elucidated. We report that gp120 significantly upregulates Nrf2 in human astrocytes and is associated with stimulation of key antioxidant defensive enzymes Hemoxygenase (HO-1) and NAD(P)H dehydrogenase quinone1 (Nqo1). Pretreatment of the astrocytes with antioxidants or a specific calcium chelator BAPTA-AM, significantly blocked the upregulation of Nrf2, HO-1 and Nqo1. These results suggest a possible role of the intracellular calcium and oxidative stress in Nrf2 mediated antioxidant defense mechanism, which may have protective role in promoting cell survival.
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