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J Biol Chem. 2012 Jan 27;287(5):3079-86. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M111.262543. Epub 2011 Nov 14.

Up-regulation of the neuronal nicotinic receptor α7 by HIV glycoprotein 120: potential implications for HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder.

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Department of Biology, University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


Approximately 30-50% of the >30 million HIV-infected subjects develop neurological complications ranging from mild symptoms to dementia. HIV does not infect neurons, and the molecular mechanisms behind HIV-associated neurocognitive decline are not understood. There are several hypotheses to explain the development of dementia in HIV(+) individuals, including neuroinflammation mediated by infected microglia and neuronal toxicity by HIV proteins. A key protein associated with the neurological complications of HIV, gp120, forms part of the viral envelope and can be found in the CSF of infected individuals. HIV-1-gp120 interacts with several receptors including CD4, CCR5, CXCR4, and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). However, the role of nAChRs in HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder has not been investigated. We studied the effects of gp120(IIIB) on the expression and function of the nicotinic receptor α7 (α7-nAChR). Our results show that gp120, through activation of the CXCR4 chemokine receptor, induces a functional up-regulation of α7-nAChRs. Because α7-nAChRs have a high permeability to Ca(2+), we performed TUNEL staining to investigate the effects of receptor up-regulation on cell viability. Our data revealed an increase in cell death, which was blocked by the selective antagonist α-bungarotoxin. The in vitro data are supported by RT-PCR and Western blot analysis, confirming a remarkable up-regulation of the α7-nAChR in gp120-transgenic mice brains. Specifically, α7-nAChR up-regulation is observed in mouse striatum, a region severely affected in HIV(+) patients. In summary, CXCR4 activation induces up-regulation of α7-nAChR, causing cell death, suggesting that α7-nAChR is a previously unrecognized contributor to the neurotoxicity associated with HIV infection.

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