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PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51387. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051387. Epub 2012 Dec 12.

Cocaine enhances HIV-1 replication in CD4+ T cells by down-regulating MiR-125b.

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The Laboratory of Retrovirology and Epigenetics, Center For AIDS Health Disparities Research, Vanderbilt-Meharry Center for AIDS Research, Department of Biochemistry and Cancer Biology, Meharry Medical College, Nashville, TN, USA.


The main objective of this study was to examine effects of cocaine on HIV-1 replication in primary CD4+ T cells. Cocaine a commonly used drug among HIV-1 positive individuals serves as a cofactor for HIV-1 infection and progression to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Accumulating evidence suggest that cocaine increases HIV-1 replication in cell cultures, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and animal models. Intriguingly, there are no studies on cocaine-induced alterations in HIV-1 replication in primary CD4+ T cells that serve as the main targets for HIV-1 replication in vivo. In this report, we demonstrate cocaine-induced enhancement of HIV-1 replication in primary CD4+ T cells isolated from human PBMCs. To decipher a potential mechanism, we examined whether cocaine targets the innate antiviral immunity of CD4+ T cells mediated by cellular microRNAs (miRNAs). This is because recently a network of anti-HIV miRNAs in CD4+ T cells is highlighted to suppress viral replication. Our genome wide miRNA expression analysis indicated downregulation of several anti-HIV miRNAs (miR-28, miR-125b, miR-150, miR-223, and miR-382) in cocaine treated CD4+ T cells. However, our real-time quantitative PCR analysis revealed significant downregulation of miR-125b only. Our results illustrated that miR-125b knockdown enhances HIV-1 replication, whereas overexpression of miR-125b decreases HIV-1 replication in these cells. Therefore, we believe miR-125b is a key player for the cocaine induced enhancement of HIV-1 replication in CD4+ T cells. Since, miR-125b targets the 3' UTR regions of HIV-1 transcripts and inhibits viral protein translation, our data suggest modulation of post entry steps of HIV-1 by cocaine. Given that a plethora of studies suggest that cocaine regulates HIV entry, our results implicate a potentially novel mechanism by which cocaine can increase viral replication in CD4+ T cells.

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