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Autophagy. 2008 Jul;4(5):704-6. Epub 2008 Apr 14.

Autophagy: an overlooked mechanism of HIV-1 pathogenesis and neuroAIDS?

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Department of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0672, USA.


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) establishes a persistent infection characterized by progressive depletion of CD4(+) lymphocytes and immunosuppression. Although extensive research has examined the importance of apoptosis as a cause of cell death associated with HIV-1 infection, the role of autophagy has been largely ignored. Our laboratory has examined the autophagic process in HIV-1-infected cells. Following infection of human peripheral blood CD4(+) T-cells or U937 cells with HIV-1 for 48 hours, the autophagy proteins Beclin 1 and LC3-II were found to be markedly decreased. Beclin 1 mRNA expression and autophagosomes were also reduced in HIV-1 infected cells. Thus, our data indicate that HIV-1 infection inhibits autophagy in infected cells in contrast to the previously described induction of autophagy by gp120 in uninfected bystander cells. It is likely that HIV-1 has evolved this mechanism as part of an elaborate attempt to evade the immune system while promoting its own replication. We believe that autophagy is an overlooked mechanism in HIV-1 pathogenesis and plays a particularly important role in the early cognitive impairment and dementia often associated with advanced AIDS. A model is presented that describes the potential role of autophagy in NeuroAIDS.

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