Neuroprotective effects of fatty acid amide hydrolase catabolic enzyme inhibition in a HIV-1 Tat model of neuroAIDS

Neuropharmacology. 2018 Oct;141:55-65. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2018.08.013. Epub 2018 Aug 13.


The HIV-1 transactivator of transcription (Tat) is a neurotoxin involved in the pathogenesis of HIV-1 associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). The neurotoxic effects of Tat are mediated directly via AMPA/NMDA receptor activity and indirectly through neuroinflammatory signaling in glia. Emerging strategies in the development of neuroprotective agents involve the modulation of the endocannabinoid system. A major endocannabinoid, anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine, AEA), is metabolized by fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). Here we demonstrate using a murine prefrontal cortex primary culture model that the inhibition of FAAH, using PF3845, attenuates Tat-mediated increases in intracellular calcium, neuronal death, and dendritic degeneration via cannabinoid receptors (CB1R and CB2R). Live cell imaging was used to assess Tat-mediated increases in [Ca2+]i, which was significantly reduced by PF3845. A time-lapse assay revealed that Tat potentiates cell death while PF3845 blocks this effect. Additionally PF3845 blocked the Tat-mediated increase in activated caspase-3 (apoptotic marker) positive neurons. Dendritic degeneration was characterized by analyzing stained dendritic processes using Imaris and Tat was found to significantly decrease the size of processes while PF3845 inhibited this effect. Incubation with CB1R and CB2R antagonists (SR141716A and AM630) revealed that PF3845-mediated calcium effects were dependent on CB1R, while reduced neuronal death and degeneration was CB2R-mediated. PF3845 application led to increased levels of AEA, suggesting the observed effects are likely a result of increased endocannabinoid signaling at CB1R/CB2R. Our findings suggest that modulation of the endogenous cannabinoid system through inhibition of FAAH may be beneficial in treatment of HAND.

Keywords: Anandamide; Cannabinoids; HIV-1 Tat; Neurodegeneration; Neuroprotection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / complications*
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / enzymology
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / pathology*
  • Amidohydrolases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / pharmacology
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Caspase 3 / metabolism
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Endocannabinoids / pharmacology
  • HIV-1 / pathogenicity*
  • Indoles / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology
  • Nerve Degeneration / prevention & control*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Piperidines / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Piperidines / pharmacology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / enzymology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • Pyridines / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Pyridines / pharmacology
  • Rimonabant / pharmacology
  • tat Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • tat Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus / toxicity*


  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Indoles
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • PF 3845
  • Piperidines
  • Pyridines
  • tat Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus
  • Caspase 3
  • Amidohydrolases
  • fatty-acid amide hydrolase
  • Rimonabant
  • Calcium
  • iodopravadoline
  • anandamide