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FASEB J. 2010 Jun;24(6):1799-812. doi: 10.1096/fj.09-147819. Epub 2010 Jan 22.

MicroRNA profiling reveals new aspects of HIV neurodegeneration: caspase-6 regulates astrocyte survival.

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  • 1Department of Medicine (Neurology), University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada.


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small noncoding RNA molecules, which are known to regulate gene expression in physiological and pathological conditions. miRNA profiling was performed using brain tissue from patients with HIV encephalitis (HIVE), a neuroinflammatory/degenerative disorder caused by HIV infection of the brain. Microarray analysis showed differential expression of multiple miRNAs in HIVE compared to control brains. Target prediction and gene ontology enrichment analysis disclosed targeting of several gene families/biological processes by differentially expressed miRNAs (DEMs), with cell death-related genes, including caspase-6, showing a bias toward down-regulated DEMs. Consistent with the miRNA data, HIVE brains exhibited higher levels of caspase-6 transcripts compared with control patients. Immunohistochemical analysis showed localization of the cleaved form of caspase-6 in astrocytes in HIVE brain sections. Exposure of cultured human primary astrocytes to HIV viral protein R (Vpr) induced p53 up-regulation, loss of mitochondrial membrane potential, and caspase-6 activation followed by cell injury. Transgenic mice, expressing Vpr in microglial cells, demonstrated astrocyte apoptosis in brain, which was associated with caspase-6 activation and neurobehavioral abnormalities. Overall, these data point to previously unrecognized alterations in miRNA profile in the brain during HIV infection, which contribute to cell death through dysregulation of cell death machinery.

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