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J Neuroimmune Pharmacol. 2017 Jun;12(2):233-248. doi: 10.1007/s11481-016-9708-3. Epub 2016 Oct 10.

HIV-1 Viral Protein R Activates NLRP3 Inflammasome in Microglia: implications for HIV-1 Associated Neuroinflammation.

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Department of Medicine, University of Alberta, T6G 2S2, Edmonton, AB, Canada.
Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM) and Department of Microbiology, Infectiology and Immunology, Université de Montréal, Montreal, QC, Canada.
Department of Medicine, University of Alberta, T6G 2S2, Edmonton, AB, Canada.


Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV) enters the brain soon after seroconversion and induces chronic neuroinflammation by infecting and activating brain macrophages. Inflammasomes are cytosolic protein complexes that mediate caspase-1 activation and ensuing cleavage and release of IL-1β and -18 by macrophages. Our group recently showed that HIV-1 infection of human microglia induced inflammasome activation in NLRP3-dependent manner. The HIV-1 viral protein R (Vpr) is an accessory protein that is released from HIV-infected cells, although its effects on neuroinflammation are undefined. Infection of human microglia with Vpr-deficient HIV-1 resulted in reduced caspase-1 activation and IL-1β production, compared to cells infected with a Vpr-encoding HIV-1 virus. Vpr was detected at low nanomolar concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid from HIV-infected patients and in supernatants from HIV-infected primary human microglia. Exposure of human macrophages to Vpr caused caspase-1 cleavage and IL-1β release with reduced cell viability, which was dependent on NLRP3 expression. Increased NLRP3, caspase-1, and IL-1β expression was evident in HIV-1 Vpr transgenic mice compared to wild-type littermates, following systemic immune stimulation. Treatment with the caspase-1 inhibitor, VX-765, suppressed NLRP3 expression with reduced IL-1β expression and associated neuroinflammation. Neurobehavioral deficits showed improvement in Vpr transgenic animals treated with VX-765. Thus, Vpr-induced NLRP3 inflammasome activation, which contributed to neuroinflammation and was abrogated by caspase-1 inhibition. This study provides a new therapeutic perspective for HIV-associated neuropsychiatric disease.


HIV-1; Inflammasomes; Interleukin-1 beta; NLRP3; Neuroinflammation; Viral protein R

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