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PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e29436. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029436. Epub 2011 Dec 27.

The HIV-1 transactivator factor (Tat) induces enterocyte apoptosis through a redox-mediated mechanism.

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Department of Paediatrics, University of Naples Federico II, Naples, Italy.


The intestinal mucosa is an important target of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. HIV virus induces CD4+ T cell loss and epithelial damage which results in increased intestinal permeability. The mechanisms involved in nutrient malabsorption and alterations of intestinal mucosal architecture are unknown. We previously demonstrated that HIV-1 transactivator factor (Tat) induces an enterotoxic effect on intestinal epithelial cells that could be responsible for HIV-associated diarrhea. Since oxidative stress is implicated in the pathogenesis and morbidity of HIV infection, we evaluated whether Tat induces apoptosis of human enterocytes through oxidative stress, and whether the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine (NAC) could prevent it. Caco-2 and HT29 cells or human intestinal mucosa specimens were exposed to Tat alone or combined with NAC. In an in-vitro cell model, Tat increased the generation of reactive oxygen species and decreased antioxidant defenses as judged by a reduction in catalase activity and a reduced (GSH)/oxidized (GSSG) glutathione ratio. Tat also induced cytochrome c release from mitochondria to cytosol, and caspase-3 activation. Rectal dialysis samples from HIV-infected patients were positive for the oxidative stress marker 8-hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine. GSH/GSSG imbalance and apoptosis occurred in jejunal specimens from HIV-positive patients at baseline and from HIV-negative specimens exposed to Tat. Experiments with neutralizing anti-Tat antibodies showed that these effects were direct and specific. Pre-treatment with NAC prevented Tat-induced apoptosis and restored the glutathione balance in both the in-vitro and the ex-vivo model. These findings indicate that oxidative stress is one of the mechanism involved in HIV-intestinal disease.

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