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J Neurovirol. 2004 Jun;10(3):141-51.

Apoptotic death of striatal neurons induced by human immunodeficiency virus-1 Tat and gp120: Differential involvement of caspase-3 and endonuclease G.

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Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, 40536, USA.


Human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) infection affects the striatum, resulting in gliosis and neuronal losses. To determine whether HIV-1 proteins induce striatal neurotoxicity through an apoptotic mechanism, mouse striatal neurons isolated on embryonic day 15 and the effects of HIV-1 Tat(1-72) and gp120 on survival were assessed in vitro. Mitochondrial release of cytochrome c, caspase-3 activation, and neuron survival, as well as an alternative apoptotic pathway involving endonuclease G (endo G), were assessed at 4 h, 24 h, 48 h, and/or 72 h using enzyme assays and immunoblotting. Both HIV-1 Tat and gp120 significantly increased caspase-3 activation in a concentration-dependent manner in striatal neurons at 4 h following continuous exposure in vitro. Tat(1-72) and gp120 caused significant neuronal losses at 48 h and/or 72 h. Tat(1-72) increased cytochrome c release, and caspase-3 and endo G activation at 4 h, 24 h, and/or 72 h. By contrast, gp120 increased caspase-3 activation, but failed to increase cytochrome c or endo G levels in the cytoplasm at 4 h, 24 h, and/or 72 h. The cell permeant caspase inhibitor Z-DEVD-FMK significantly attenuated gp120-induced, but not Tat(1-72)-induced, neuronal death, suggesting that gp120 acts in large part through the activation of caspase(s), whereas Tat(1-72)-induced neurotoxicity was accompanied by activating an alternative pathway involving endo G. Thus, although Tat(1-72) and gp120 induced significant neurotoxicity, the nature of the apoptotic events preceding death differed. Collectively, our findings suggest that HIV-1 proteins are intrinsically toxic to striatal neurons and the pathogenesis is mediated through separate actions involving both caspase-3 and endo G.

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