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J Neurosci. 2019 Aug 30. pii: 2851-18. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2851-18.2019. [Epub ahead of print]

Microglia mediate HIV-1 gp120-induced synaptic degeneration in spinal pain neural circuits.

Author information

1
Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX 77555, USA.
2
University of Connecticut, Department of Physiology and Neurobiology, 75 N Eagleville Road, U-3156, Storrs, CT 06269, USA; *, Corresponding author.
3
Department of Neuroscience and Cell Biology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX 77555, USA shtang@utmb.edu.

Abstract

HIV-1 infection of the nervous system causes various neurological diseases, and synaptic degeneration is likely a critical step in the neuropathogenesis. Our prior studies revealed a significant decrease of synaptic protein specifically in the spinal dorsal horn (SDH) of HIV-1 patients who developed pain, suggesting a potential contribution of synaptic degeneration to the pathogenesis of HIV-associated pain. However, the mechanism by which HIV-1 causes the spinal synaptic degeneration is unclear. Here, we identified a critical role of microglia in the synaptic degeneration. In primary cortical cultures (DIV14) and spinal cords of 3-5-month-old mice (both genders), microglial ablation inhibited gp120-induced synapse decrease. Fractalkine (FKN), a microglia-activation chemokine specifically expressed in neurons, was up-regulated by gp120, and knockout of the FKN receptor CX3CR1, which is predominantly expressed in microglia, protected synapses from gp120-induced toxicity. These results indicate the neuron-to-microglia intercellular FKN/CX3CR1 signaling plays a role in gp120-induced synaptic degeneration. To elucidate the mechanism controlling this intercellular signaling, we tested the role of the Wnt/β-catenin pathway in regulating FKN expression. Inhibition of Wnt/β-catenin signaling blocked both gp120-induced FKN up-regulation and synaptic degeneration, and gp120 stimulated Wnt/β-catenin-regulated FKN expression via NMDA receptors. Furthermore, NMDAR antagonist APV, Wnt/β-catenin signaling suppressor DKK1 or knockout of CX3CR1 alleviated gp120-induced mechanical allodynia in mice, suggesting a critical contribution of the Wnt/β-catenin/FKN/CX3R1 pathway to gp120-induced pain. These findings collectively suggest that HIV-1 gp120 induces synapse degeneration in the spinal pain neural circuit by activating microglia via Wnt3a/β-catenin-regulated FKN expression in neurons.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTHIV patients with chronic pain develop synaptic degeneration in the spinal cord dorsal horn, but the patients without the pain disorder do not show this neuropathology, indicating a pathogenic contribution of the synaptic degeneration to the development of HIV-associated pain. However, the mechanism underlying the synaptic degeneration is unclear. We report here that HIV-1 gp120, a neurotoxic protein that is specifically associated with the manifestation of pain in HIV patients, induces synapse loss via microglia. Further studies elucidate that gp120 activates microglia by stimulating Wnt/β-catenin-regulated fractalkine in neuron. The results demonstrate a critical role of microglia in the pathogenesis of HIV-associated synaptic degeneration in the spinal pain neural circuit.

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