Suppression of HIV-TAT and cocaine-induced neurotoxicity and inflammation by cell penetrable itaconate esters

J Neurovirol. 2024 Jun 17. doi: 10.1007/s13365-024-01216-9. Online ahead of print.


HIV-associated neurological disorder (HAND) is a serious complication of HIV infection marked by neurotoxicity induced by viral proteins like Tat. Substance abuse exacerbates neurocognitive impairment in people living with HIV. There is an urgent need for therapeutic strategies to combat HAND comorbid with Cocaine Use Disorder (CUD). Our analysis of HIV and cocaine-induced transcriptomes in primary cortical cultures revealed significant overexpression of the macrophage-specific gene aconitate decarboxylase 1 (Acod1). The ACOD1 protein converts the tricarboxylic acid intermediate cis-aconitate into itaconate during the activation of inflammation. Itaconate then facilitates cytokine production and activates anti-inflammatory transcription factors, shielding macrophages from infection-induced cell death. However, the immunometabolic function of itaconate was unexplored in HIV and cocaine-exposed microglia. We assessed the potential of 4-octyl-itaconate (4OI), a cell-penetrable ester form of itaconate known for its anti-inflammatory properties. When primary cortical cultures exposed to Tat and cocaine were treated with 4OI, microglial cell number increased and the morphological altercations induced by Tat and cocaine were reversed. Microglial cells also appeared more ramified, resembling the quiescent microglia. 4OI treatment inhibited secretion of the proinflammatory cytokines IL-1α, IL-1β, IL-6, and MIP1-α induced by Tat and cocaine. Transcriptome profiling determined that Nrf2 target genes were significantly activated in Tat and 4OI treated cultures relative to Tat alone. Further, genes associated with cytoskeleton dynamics in inflammatory microglia were downregulated by 4OI treatment. Together, the results strongly suggest 4-octyl-itaconate holds promise as a potential candidate for therapeutic development to treat HAND coupled with CUD comorbidities.

Keywords: Acod 1; HAND; HIV; Itaconate; Microglia; Neuroinflammation; Tat.