Persistent sensory changes and sex differences in transgenic mice conditionally expressing HIV-1 Tat regulatory protein

Exp Neurol. 2022 Dec:358:114226. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2022.114226. Epub 2022 Sep 10.


HIV-associated sensory neuropathies (HIV-SN) are prevalent in >50% of patients aged over 45 years many of which report moderate to severe chronic pain. Previous preclinical studies have investigated the mechanisms by which HIV-1 causes sensory neuropathies and pain-like behaviors. The aim of the present study is to delineate the role of chronic HIV-1 trans-activator of transcription protein (Tat) exposure in the development of neuropathy in mice. The temporal effects of conditional Tat expression on the development of hypersensitivity to mechanical (von Frey filaments) and thermal (heat or cold) stimuli were tested in male and female mice that transgenically expressed HIV-1 Tat in a doxycycline-inducible manner. Inducing Tat expression produced an allodynic response to mechanical or cold (but not heat) stimuli that respectively persisted for at least 23-weeks (mechanical hypersensitivity) or at least 8-weeks (cold hypersensitivity). Both allodynic states were greater in magnitude among females, compared to males, and mechanical increased hypersensitivity progressively in females over time. Acute morphine or gabapentin treatment partly attenuated allodynia in males, but not females. Irrespective of sex, Tat reduced intraepidermal nerve fiber density, the mean amplitude of sensory nerve action potentials (but not conductance), engagement in some pain-related ethological behaviors (cage-hanging and rearing), and down-regulated PPAR-α gene expression in lumbar spinal cord while upregulating TNF-α expression in dorsal root ganglion. Taken together, these data reveal fundamental sex differences in mechanical and cold hypersensitivity in response to Tat and demonstrate the intractable nature in female mice to current therapeutics. Understanding the role of Tat in these pathologies may aid the design of future therapies aimed at mitigating the peripheral sensory neuropathies that accompany neuroHIV.

Keywords: Inflammatory pain; NeuroAIDS; Neuropathic pain; Sex differences; Trans-activator of transcription.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cryopyrin-Associated Periodic Syndromes
  • Doxycycline
  • Female
  • Gabapentin
  • Gene Products, tat
  • HIV Infections*
  • HIV-1*
  • Hyperalgesia / genetics
  • Hyperalgesia / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Morphine / pharmacology
  • Pain
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases*
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptors
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha


  • Gene Products, tat
  • Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptors
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Gabapentin
  • Morphine
  • Doxycycline

Supplementary concepts

  • Cold Hypersensitivity