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1.  Nerve growth factor acts through the TrkA receptor to protect sensory neurons from the damaging effects of the HIV-1 viral protein, Vpr 
Neuroscience  2013;252:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2013.07.046.
Distal sensory polyneuropathy (DSP) with associated neuropathic pain is the most common neurological disorder affecting patients with human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS). Viral protein R (Vpr) is a neurotoxic protein encoded by HIV-1 and secreted by infected macrophages. Vpr reduces neuronal viability, increases cytosolic calcium and membrane excitability of cultured dorsal root ganglion (DRG) sensory neurons, and is associated with mechanical allodynia in vivo. A clinical trial with HIV/AIDS patients demonstrated that nerve growth factor (NGF) reduced the severity of DSP-associated neuropathic pain, a problem linked to damage to small diameter, potentially NGF responsive fibers. Herein, the actions of NGF were investigated in our Vpr model of DSP and we demonstrated that NGF significantly protected sensory neurons from the effects of Vpr. Footpads of immunodeficient Vpr transgenic (vpr/RAG1−/−) mice displayed allodynia (p<0.05), diminished epidermal innervation (p<0.01) and reduced NGF mRNA expression (p<0.001) compared to immunodeficient (wildtype/RAG1−/−) littermate control mice. Compartmented cultures confirmed recombinant Vpr exposure to the DRG neuronal perikarya decreased distal neurite extension (p<0.01), whereas NGF exposure at these distal axons protected the DRG neurons from the Vpr-induced effect on their cell bodies. NGF prevented Vpr-induced attenuation of the phosphorylated glycogen synthase-3 axon extension pathway and tropomyosin related kinase A (TrkA) receptor expression in DRG neurons (p<0.05) and it directly counteracted the cytosolic calcium burst caused by Vpr exposure to DRG neurons (p<0.01). TrkA receptor antagonists indicated that NGF acted through the TrkA receptor to block the Vpr-mediated decrease in axon outgrowth in neonatal and adult rat and fetal human DRG neurons (p<0.05). Similarly, inhibiting the lower affinity NGF receptor, p75, blocked Vpr’s effect on DRG neurons. Overall, NGF/TrkA signalling or p75 receptor inhibition protects somatic sensory neurons exposed to Vpr, thus laying the groundwork for potential therapeutic options for HIV/AIDS patients suffering from DSP.
doi:10.1016/j.neuroscience.2013.07.046
PMCID: PMC3829629  PMID: 23912036
2.  Proteinase-activated receptor-1 mediates dorsal root ganglion neuronal degeneration in HIV/AIDS 
Brain  2011;134(11):3209-3221.
Distal sensory polyneuropathy is a frequent complication of lentivirus infections of the peripheral nervous system including both human immunodeficiency virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. Proteinase-activated receptors are G protein-coupled receptors implicated in the pathogenesis of neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration. Proteinase-activated receptor-1 is expressed on different cell types within the nervous system including neurons and glia, but little is known about its role in the pathogenesis of inflammatory peripheral nerve diseases, particularly lentivirus-related distal sensory polyneuropathy. Herein, the expression and functions of proteinase-activated receptor-1 in the peripheral nervous system during human immunodeficiency virus and feline immunodeficiency virus infections were investigated. Proteinase-activated receptor-1 expression was most evident in autopsied dorsal root ganglion neurons from subjects infected with human immunodeficiency virus, compared with the dorsal root ganglia of uninfected subjects. Human immunodeficiency virus or feline immunodeficiency virus infection of cultured human or feline dorsal root ganglia caused upregulation of interleukin-1β and proteinase-activated receptor-1 expression. In the human immunodeficiency virus- or feline immunodeficiency virus-infected dorsal root ganglia, interleukin-1β activation was principally detected in macrophages, while neurons showed induction of proteinase-activated receptor-1. Binding of proteinase-activated receptor-1 by the selective proteinase-activated receptor-1-activating peptide resulted in neurite retraction and soma atrophy in conjunction with cytosolic calcium activation in human dorsal root ganglion neurons. Interleukin-1β exposure to feline or human dorsal root ganglia caused upregulation of proteinase-activated receptor-1 in neurons. Exposure of feline immunodeficiency virus-infected dorsal root ganglia to the interleukin-1 receptor antagonist prevented proteinase-activated receptor-1 induction and neurite retraction. In vivo feline immunodeficiency virus infection was associated with increased proteinase-activated receptor-1 expression on neurons and interleukin-1β induction in macrophages. Moreover, feline immunodeficiency virus infection caused hyposensitivity to mechanical stimulation. These data indicated that activation and upregulation of proteinase-activated receptor-1 by interleukin-1β contributed to dorsal root ganglion neuronal damage during lentivirus infections leading to the development of distal sensory polyneuropathy and might also provide new targets for future therapeutic interventions.
doi:10.1093/brain/awr242
PMCID: PMC3212716  PMID: 22021895
PAR1; HIV; FIV; dorsal root ganglion; IL-1β
3.  Genetic Analysis in Drosophila Reveals a Role for the Mitochondrial Protein P32 in Synaptic Transmission 
G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics  2012;2(1):59-69.
Mitochondria located within neuronal presynaptic terminals have been shown to play important roles in the release of chemical neurotransmitters. In the present study, a genetic screen for synaptic transmission mutants of Drosophila has identified the first mutation in a Drosophila homolog of the mitochondrial protein P32. Although P32 is highly conserved and has been studied extensively, its physiological role in mitochondria remains unknown and it has not previously been implicated in neural function. The Drosophila P32 mutant, referred to as dp32EC1, exhibited a temperature-sensitive (TS) paralytic behavioral phenotype. Moreover, electrophysiological analysis at adult neuromuscular synapses revealed a TS reduction in the amplitude of excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSC) and indicated that dP32 functions in neurotransmitter release. These studies are the first to address P32 function in Drosophila and expand our knowledge of mitochondrial proteins contributing to synaptic transmission.
doi:10.1534/g3.111.001586
PMCID: PMC3276185  PMID: 22384382
calcium; neurotransmitter release; neuromuscular; temperature sensitive; dorsal longitudinal flight muscle
4.  Interactions between human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1 Vpr expression and innate immunity influence neurovirulence 
Retrovirology  2011;8:44.
Background
Viral diversity and abundance are defining properties of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1's biology and pathogenicity. Despite the increasing availability of antiretroviral therapy, HIV-associated dementia (HAD) continues to be a devastating consequence of HIV-1 infection of the brain although the underlying disease mechanisms remain uncertain. Herein, molecular diversity within the HIV-1 non-structural gene, Vpr, was examined in RNA sequences derived from brain and blood of HIV/AIDS patients with or without HIV-associated dementia (HAD) together with the ensuing pathobiological effects.
Results
Cloned brain- and blood-derived full length vpr alleles revealed that amino acid residue 77 within the brain-derived alleles distinguished HAD (77Q) from non-demented (ND) HIV/AIDS patients (77R) (p < 0.05) although vpr transcripts were more frequently detected in HAD brains (p < 0.05). Full length HIV-1 clones encoding the 77R-ND residue induced higher IFN-α, MX1 and BST-2 transcript levels in human glia relative to the 77Q-HAD encoding virus (p < 0.05) but both viruses exhibited similar levels of gene expression and replication. Myeloid cells transfected with 77Q-(pVpr77Q-HAD), 77R (pVpr77R-ND) or Vpr null (pVpr(-))-containing vectors showed that the pVpr77R-ND vector induced higher levels of immune gene expression (p < 0.05) and increased neurotoxicity (p < 0.05). Vpr peptides (amino acids 70-96) containing the 77Q-HAD or 77R-ND motifs induced similar levels of cytosolic calcium activation when exposed to human neurons. Human glia exposed to the 77R-ND peptide activated higher transcript levels of IFN-α, MX1, PRKRA and BST-2 relative to 77Q-HAD peptide (p < 0.05). The Vpr 77R-ND peptide was also more neurotoxic in a concentration-dependent manner when exposed to human neurons (p < 0.05). Stereotaxic implantation of full length Vpr, 77Q-HAD or 77R-ND peptides into the basal ganglia of mice revealed that full length Vpr and the 77R-ND peptide caused greater neurobehavioral deficits and neuronal injury compared with 77Q-HAD peptide-implanted animals (p < 0.05).
Conclusions
These observations underscored the potent neuropathogenic properties of Vpr but also indicated viral diversity modulates innate neuroimmunity and neurodegeneration.
doi:10.1186/1742-4690-8-44
PMCID: PMC3123635  PMID: 21645334

Results 1-4 (4)