Background: The RNA-binding protein tristetraprolin (TTP) participates in normal post-transcriptional control of cytokine and chemokine gene expression, dysregulation of which contributes to the HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders. Transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation of TTP has been described, including regulation by microRNA-29a. In the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) model of HIV CNS disease, control of cytokine/chemokine expression coincides with the end of acute phase infection. This control is lost during progression to disease. In this study, we assessed TTP regulation and association with cytokine regulation in the brain during SIV infection.
Results: Quantitation of TTP expression over the course of SIV infection revealed downregulation of TTP during acute infection, maintenance of relatively low levels during asymptomatic phase, and increased expression only during late-stage CNS disease, particularly in association with severe disease. The ability of miR-29a to regulate TTP was confirmed, and evidence for additional miRNA targeters of TTP was found. However, increased miR-29a expression in brain was not found to be significantly negatively correlated with TTP. Similarly, increased TTP during late-stage disease was not associated with lower cytokine expression.
Conclusions: TTP expression is regulated during SIV infection of the CNS. The lack of significant negative correlation of miR-29a and TTP expression levels suggests that while miR-29a may contribute to TTP regulation, additional factors are involved. Reduced TTP expression during acute infection is consistent with increased cytokine production during this phase of infection, but the increases in TTP observed during late-stage infection were insufficient to halt runaway cytokine levels. While antisense inhibitors of the post-transcriptional targeters of TTP identified here could conceivably be used further to augment TTP regulation of cytokines, it is possible that high levels of TTP are undesirable. Additional research is needed to characterize members of the miRNA/TTP/cytokine regulatory network and identify nodes that may be best targeted therapeutically to ameliorate the effects of chronic inflammation in retrovirus-associated CNS disease.