GPR18 drives FAAH inhibition-induced neuroprotection against HIV-1 Tat-induced neurodegeneration

Exp Neurol. 2021 Jul;341:113699. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2021.113699. Epub 2021 Mar 15.


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is known to provoke microglial immune responses which likely play a paramount role in the development of chronic neuroinflammatory conditions and neuronal damage related to HIV-1 associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). In particular, HIV-1 Tat protein is a proinflammatory neurotoxin which predisposes neurons to synaptodendritic injury. Drugs targeting the degradative enzymes of endogenous cannabinoids have shown promise in reducing inflammation with minimal side effects in rodent models. Considering that markers of neuroinflammation can predict the extent of neuronal injury in HAND patients, we evaluated the neurotoxic effect of HIV-1 Tat-exposed microglia following blockade of fatty acid amid hydrolyze (FAAH), a catabolic enzyme responsible for degradation of endocannabinoids, e.g. anandamide (AEA). In the present study, cultured murine microglia were incubated with Tat and/or a FAAH inhibitor (PF3845). After 24 h, cells were imaged for morphological analysis and microglial conditioned media (MCM) was collected. Frontal cortex neuron cultures (DIV 7-11) were then exposed to MCM, and neurotoxicity was assessed via live cell calcium imaging and staining of actin positive dendritic structures. Results demonstrate a strong attenuation of microglial responses to Tat by PF3845 pretreatment, which is indicated by 1) microglial changes in morphology to a less proinflammatory phenotype using fractal analysis, 2) a decrease in release of neurotoxic cytokines/chemokines (MCP-1/CCL2) and matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs; MMP-9) using ELISA/multiplex assays, and 3) enhanced production of endocannabinoids (AEA) using LC/MS/MS. Additionally, PF3845's effects on Tat-induced microglial-mediated neurotoxicity, decreased dysregulation of neuronal intracellular calcium and prevented the loss of actin-positive staining and punctate structure in frontal cortex neuron cultures. Interestingly, these observed neuroprotective effects appeared to be independent of cannabinoid receptor activity (CB1R & CB2R). We found that a purported GPR18 antagonist, CID-85469571, blocked the neuroprotective effects of PF3845 in all experiments. Collectively, these experiments increase understanding of the role of FAAH inhibition and Tat in mediating microglial neurotoxicity in the HAND condition.

Keywords: Anandamide; Endocannabinoid; Fatty acid amide hydrolase; G protein coupled receptor; HIV-1 Tat; Matrix metalloproteinase; Microglia; Monocyte chemoattractant protein 1; Neuroinflammation; Neuroprotection.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amidohydrolases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Amidohydrolases / deficiency
  • Amidohydrolases / genetics
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Microglia / drug effects
  • Microglia / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / chemically induced
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Neuroprotection / drug effects
  • Neuroprotection / physiology*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / metabolism
  • Piperidines / pharmacology
  • Pyridines / pharmacology
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism
  • tat Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus / toxicity*


  • GPR18 protein, mouse
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • PF 3845
  • Piperidines
  • Pyridines
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • tat Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus
  • Amidohydrolases
  • fatty-acid amide hydrolase