HIV-associated sensory neuropathy (HIV-SN) is a frequent neurological complication of HIV infection and its treatment with some antiretroviral drugs. We review the pathogenesis of the viral- and drug-induced causes of the neuropathy, and its primary symptom, pain, based on evidence from in vivo and in vitro models of HIV-SN. Viral coat proteins mediate nerve fibre damage and hypernociception through direct and indirect mechanisms. Direct interactions between viral proteins and nerve fibres dominate axonal pathology, while somal pathology is dominated by indirect mechanisms that occur secondary to virus-mediated activation of glia and macrophage infiltration into the dorsal root ganglia. The treatment-induced neuropathy and resulting hypernociception arise primarily from drug-induced mitochondrial dysfunction, but the sequence of events initiated by the mitochondrial dysfunction that leads to the nerve fibre damage and dysfunction are still unclear. Overall, the models that have been developed to study the pathogenesis of HIV-SN, and hypernociception associated with the neuropathy, are reasonable models and have provided useful insights into the pathogenesis of HIV-SN. As new models are developed they may ultimately lead to identification of therapeutic targets for the prevention or treatment of this common neurological complication of HIV infection.
© 2012 Peripheral Nerve Society.