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The neuropathological abnormalities of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1 patients abusing illicit drugs suggest extensive interactions between the two agents, thereby leading to increased rate of progression to neurodegeneration. The role of HIV-1 transactivating protein, Tat has been elucidated in mediating neuronal damage via apoptosis, a hallmark of HIV-associated dementia (HAD), however the underlying mechanisms involved in enhanced neurodegeneration by illicit drugs remain elusive. In this study, we demonstrated that morphine enhances HIV-Tat induced toxicity in human neurons and neuroblastoma cells. Enhanced toxicity by Tat and morphine was accompanied by increased numbers of TUNEL positive apoptotic neurons, elevated caspase-3 levels and decreased ratio of anti- and pro-apoptotic proteins, Bcl2/Bax. Tat and morphine together elicited high levels of reactive oxygen species that were NADPH dependent. Significant alterations in mitochondrial membrane homeostasis were also observed with co-exposure of these agents. Extensive studies of mitogen activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling pathways revealed the involvement of c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and extracellular signal-regulated kinase-1/2 (ERK1/2) pathways in enhanced toxicity of Tat and morphine. In addition to this, we found that pre-treatment of cells with platelet derived growth factor (PDGF-BB) protected neurons from HIV-Tat and morphine induced damage. PDGF-BB alleviated ROS production, maintained mitochondrial membrane potential, decreased caspase-3 activation and hence protected the cells from undergoing apoptosis. PDGF-BB mediated protection against Tat and morphine involved the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3K) pathway, as specific inhibitor of PI3K abrogated the protection conferred by PDGF-BB. This study demonstrates the mechanism of enhanced toxicity in human neurons subjected to co-exposure of HIV protein Tat and morphine, thus implying its importance in HIV positive drug abusers, where damage to the brain is reported to be more severe than non-drug abusers. We have also showed for the first time that PDGF-BB can protect against simultaneous exposure of Tat and morphine, strengthening its role as a neuroprotective agent that could be considered for therapeutic intervention.

Original publication

DOI

10.1371/journal.pone.0018116

Type

Journal article

Journal

PLoS One

Publication Date

24/03/2011

Volume

6

Keywords

Animals, Blotting, Western, Caspase 3, Cell Line, Cell Line, Tumor, Cell Survival, Cells, Cultured, Humans, Immunohistochemistry, In Situ Nick-End Labeling, Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases, Morphine, Neurons, Reactive Oxygen Species, Signal Transduction, tat Gene Products, Human Immunodeficiency Virus