Under physiological conditions, the function of astrocytes in providing brain metabolic support is compromised under pathophysiological conditions caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and opioids. Herein, we examined the role of autophagy, a lysosomal degradation pathway important for cellular homeostasis and survival, as a potential regulatory mechanism during pathophysiological conditions in primary human astrocytes. Blocking autophagy with small interfering RNA (siRNA) targeting BECN1, but not the Autophagy-related 5 (ATG5) gene, caused a significant decrease in HIV and morphine-induced intracellular calcium release. On the contrary, inducing autophagy pharmacologically with rapamycin further enhanced calcium release and significantly reverted HIV and morphine-decreased glutamate uptake. Furthermore, siBeclin1 caused an increase in HIV-induced nitric oxide (NO) release, while viral-induced NO in astrocytes exposed to rapamycin was decreased. HIV replication was significantly attenuated in astrocytes transfected with siRNA while significantly induced in astrocytes exposed to rapamycin. Silencing with siBeclin1, but not siATG5, caused a significant decrease in HIV and morphine-induced interleukin (IL)-8 and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) release, while secretion of IL-8 was significantly induced with rapamycin. Mechanistically, the effects of siBeclin1 in decreasing HIV-induced calcium release, viral replication, and viral-induced cytokine secretion were associated with a decrease in activation of the nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) pathway.
Keywords: astrocytes; autophagy; human immunodeficiency virus; inflammation; morphine; neurotransmitters.