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Cell Mol Biol (Noisy-le-grand). 2000 Nov;46(7):1227-38.

The stress hormone, cortisol, synergizes with HIV-1 gp-120 to induce apoptosis of normal human peripheral blood mononuclear cells.

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Department of Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo General Hospital, NY 14203, USA.


Both quantitative and qualitative defects in immune functions in patients with AIDS may result from induction of programmed cell death or apoptosis of CD4 T lymphocytes. We postulate that neurohormones may interact with gp-120 that is shed during active HIV infection and cause apoptosis of immunocompetent cells leading to immunopathogenesis of HIV infections. In this study, we investigated the synergistic effect of cortisol plus HIV gp-120 in inducing apoptosis of lymphocytes from normal subjects. Total peripheral blood mononuclear cells and isolated CD4+ T-cells were treated with cortisol or gp-120 separately and in combination and RNA and DNA were extracted. RNA was reverse transcribed and amplified with specific primers for Fas and Fas ligand and analyzed on agarose gels. DNA was analyzed by gel electrophoresis for ladder formation, the hallmark for apoptosis, and Fas antigen expression by confocal microscopy. Results demonstrate that cortisol and gp-120 induce apoptosis of lymphocytes from normal donors as demonstrated by DNA ladder formation, TUNEL staining and Fas gene expression. Concentrations of cortisol and gp-120 that did not produce apoptosis when used separately, induced significant apoptosis when used in combination. Further, gp-120 induced DNA fragmentation was significant in the CD4+ T-cell subpopulation compared to the CD47 subpopulation. This study suggests that the stress-associated neurohormone, cortisol, synergizes with HIV peptides in causing apoptosis of normal lymphocytes. The synergistic effect of cortisol and gp- 120 in inducing apoptosis of lymphocytes is consistent with a model proposing that stress-associated and circulating HIV-1 derived soluble products may cause progression of HIV infections.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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