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Neuroscience. 2001;104(3):769-81.

Ethanol pre-exposure suppresses HIV-1 glycoprotein 120-induced neuronal degeneration by abrogating endogenous glutamate/Ca2+-mediated neurotoxicity.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy, Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, IL 60153, USA.

Erratum in

  • Neuroscience 2002;111(1):229.


The neurotoxic mechanism of HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein 120 (gp120) involves glutamatergic (NMDA) receptor/Ca2+-dependent excitotoxicity, mediated in part via glia. Pro-inflammatory cytokines also may have roles. We have reported that pre-exposure of brain cultures to 'physiological' ethanol concentrations (20-30 mM) protects against neuronal damage from HIV-1 gp120, but not from the direct receptor agonist, NMDA. Using lactate dehydrogenase assays and propidium iodide staining of rat organotypic hippocampal-entorhinal cortical slice cultures we determined that ethanol's suppression of gp120 neurotoxicity required at least 4 days of pretreatment. The gp120-induced neurotoxicity was accompanied by interleukin-6 elevations that were not affected by the pretreatment. However, gp120 induced substantial, early increases in extracellular glutamate levels that were blocked by ethanol pretreatment, conceivably abrogating excitotoxicity. Consistent with abrogation of excitotoxic pathways, fura-2 imaging showed selective deficits in gp120-dependent intracellular Ca2+ responses in ethanol-pretreated slices. Gp120 is believed to increase glutamate levels by both stimulating release and inhibiting (re)uptake. Results with a labeled glutamate analog, D-[3H]aspartate, revealed that gp120's inhibition of glutamate uptake, rather than its stimulation of release, was abolished after ethanol. Further studies indicated that two converging effects of ethanol pretreatment may underlie the abolishment of gp120-mediated glutamate uptake inhibition: (a) blockade of gp120-induced release (ostensibly from glia) of arachidonic acid, an inhibitor of astroglial glutamate reuptake, and (b) modest proliferation and activation of astroglia upon gp120 stimulation--which are likely to augment glutamate transporters. Thus, as with gp120 itself, glia and glutamate/arachidonic acid regulation appear to be important targets for ethanol. Since moderate ethanol consumption is as common among HIV-infected individuals as in the general population, this newly recognized neuroprotective (and apparently anti-excitotoxic) effect of ethanol withdrawal in vitro could be important, but it requires further study before its significance, if any, is understood.

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