Dysregulation of Neuronal Cholesterol Homeostasis upon Exposure to HIV-1 Tat and Cocaine Revealed by RNA-Sequencing

Sci Rep. 2018 Nov 2;8(1):16300. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-34539-9.


HIV-1 Tat protein is released from HIV-1-infected cells and can enter non-permissive cells including neurons. Tat disrupts neuronal homeostasis and may contribute to the neuropathogenesis in people living with HIV (PLWH). The use of cocaine by PLWH exacerbates neuronal dysfunction. Here, we examined the mechanisms by which Tat and cocaine facilitate alterations in neuronal homeostatic processes. Bioinformatic interrogation of the results from RNA deep sequencing of rat hippocampal neurons exposed to Tat alone indicated the dysregulation of several genes involved in lipid and cholesterol metabolism. Following exposure to Tat and cocaine, the activation of cholesterol biosynthesis genes led to increased levels of free cholesterol and cholesteryl esters in rat neurons. Results from lipid metabolism arrays validated upregulation of several processes implicated in the biogenesis of β-amyloid and Alzheimer's disease (AD), including sterol o-acyltransferase 1/acetyl-coenzyme A acyltransferase 1 (SOAT1/ACAT1), sortilin-related receptor L1 (SORL1) and low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 12 (LRP12). Further studies in Tat-treated primary neuronal cultures and brain tissues from HIV-1 transgenic mice as well as SIV-infected macaques confirmed elevated levels of SOAT1/ACAT 1 proteins. Our results offer novel insights into the molecular events involved in HIV and cocaine-mediated neuronal dysfunction that may also contribute to neuropathogenic events associated with the development of AD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • AIDS Dementia Complex / pathology*
  • AIDS Dementia Complex / virology
  • Animals
  • Biosynthetic Pathways / genetics
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cholesterol / analysis
  • Cholesterol / biosynthesis*
  • Cocaine / toxicity*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / pathology*
  • Computational Biology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • HIV-1 / metabolism
  • HIV-1 / pathogenicity
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism / drug effects
  • Lipid Metabolism / genetics
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • Rats
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • tat Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus / toxicity*


  • tat Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus
  • Cholesterol
  • Cocaine