Background: The collective cognitive and motor deficits known as HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) remain high even among HIV+ individuals whose antiretroviral therapy is optimized. HAND is worsened in the context of opiate abuse. The mechanism of exacerbation remains unclear but likely involves chronic immune activation of glial cells resulting from persistent, low-level exposure to the virus and viral proteins. We tested whether signaling through C-C chemokine receptor type 5 (CCR5) contributes to neurotoxic interactions between HIV-1 transactivator of transcription (Tat) and opiates and explored potential mechanisms.
Methods: Neuronal survival was tracked in neuronal and glial co-cultures over 72 h of treatment with HIV-1 Tat ± morphine using cells from CCR5-deficient and wild-type mice exposed to the CCR5 antagonist maraviroc or exogenously-added BDNF (analyzed by repeated measures ANOVA). Intracellular calcium changes in response to Tat ± morphine ± maraviroc were assessed by ratiometric Fura-2 imaging (analyzed by repeated measures ANOVA). Release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its precursor proBDNF from CCR5-deficient and wild-type glia was measured by ELISA (analyzed by two-way ANOVA). Levels of CCR5 and μ-opioid receptor (MOR) were measured by immunoblotting (analyzed by Student's t test).
Results: HIV-1 Tat induces neurotoxicity, which is greatly exacerbated by morphine in wild-type cultures expressing CCR5. Loss of CCR5 from glia (but not neurons) eliminated neurotoxicity due to Tat and morphine interactions. Unexpectedly, when CCR5 was lost from glia, morphine appeared to entirely protect neurons from Tat-induced toxicity. Maraviroc pre-treatment similarly eliminated neurotoxicity and attenuated neuronal increases in [Ca2+]i caused by Tat ± morphine. proBDNF/BDNF ratios were increased in conditioned media from Tat ± morphine-treated wild-type glia compared to CCR5-deficient glia. Exogenous BDNF treatments mimicked the pro-survival effect of glial CCR5 deficiency against Tat ± morphine.
Conclusions: Our results suggest a critical role for glial CCR5 in mediating neurotoxic effects of HIV-1 Tat and morphine interactions on neurons. A shift in the proBDNF/BDNF ratio that favors neurotrophic support may occur when glial CCR5 signaling is blocked. Some neuroprotection occurred only in the presence of morphine, suggesting that loss of CCR5 may fundamentally change signaling through the MOR in glia.
Keywords: Brain-derived neurotrophic factor; C-C chemokine receptor 5; Human immunodeficiency virus; Maraviroc; Morphine; NeuroHIV.