Background Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-associated sensory neuropathy (SN) is the most frequent neurological complication of HIV disease. Among the probable mechanisms underlying HIV-SN are neurotoxicity induced by the HIV glycoprotein gp120 and antiretroviral therapies (ART). Since HIV-SN prevalence remains high in patients who have not been exposed to toxic ART drugs, here we focused on gp120-mediated mechanisms underlying HIV-SN. Methods We hypothesized that a direct gp120–sensory neurone interaction is not the cause of neurite degeneration; rather, an indirect interaction of gp120 with sensory neurones involving macrophages underlies axonal degeneration. Rat dorsal root ganglion (DRG) cultures were used to assess gp120 neurotoxicity. Rat bone marrow-derived macrophage (BMDM) cultures and qPCR array were used to assess gp120-associated gene expression changes. Results gp120 induced significant, but latent onset, neurite degeneration until 24 h after application. gp120–neurone interaction occurred within 1 h of application in <10% of DRG neurones, despite neurite degeneration having a global effect. Application of culture media from gp120-exposed BMDMs induced a significant reduction in DRG neurite outgrowth. Furthermore, gp120 significantly increased the expression of 25 cytokine-related genes in primary BMDMs, some of which have been implicated in other painful polyneuropathies. The C–C chemokine receptor type 5 (CCR5) antagonist, maraviroc, concentration-dependently inhibited gp120-induced tumour necrosis factor-α gene expression, indicating that these effects occurred via gp120 activation of CCR5. Conclusions Our findings highlight macrophages in the pathogenesis of HIV-SN and upstream modulation of macrophage response as a promising therapeutic strategy.
We thank Dr Jim Perkins of University College London for his help with the statistical analysis of our gene array data. We thank Prof. Maria Papathanasopoulos from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, for the gift of gp120Bal.
- HIV envelope protein
- peripheral nervous system
- peripheral neuropathies