Sensitization of enteric neurons to morphine by HIV-1 Tat protein

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Gastrointestinal (GI) dysfunction is a major cause of morbidity in acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV-1-induced neuropathogenesis is significantly enhanced by opiate abuse, which increases proinflammatory chemokine/cytokine release, the production of reactive species, glial reactivity, and neuronal injury in the central nervous system. Despite marked interactions in the gut, little is known about the effects of HIV-1 in combination with opiate use on the enteric nervous system.


To explore HIV-opiate interactions in myenteric neurons, the effects of Tat ± morphine (0.03, 0.3, and 3 μM) were examined in isolated neurons from doxycycline- (DOX-) inducible HIV-1 Tat1-86 transgenic mice or following in vitro Tat 100 nM exposure (>6 h).

Key Results

Current clamp recordings demonstrated increased neuronal excitability in neurons of inducible Tat(+) mice (Tat+/DOX) compared to control Tat−/DOX mice. In neurons from Tat+/DOX, but not from Tat−/DOX mice, 0.03 μM morphine significantly reduced neuronal excitability, fast transient and late long-lasting sodium currents. There was a significant leftward shift in V0.5 of inactivation following exposure to 0.03 μM morphine, with a 50% decrease in availability of sodium channels at −100 mV. Similar effects were noted with in vitro Tat exposure in the presence of 0.3 μM morphine. Additionally, GI motility was significantly more sensitive to morphine in Tat(+) mice than Tat(−) mice.

Conclusions & Inferences

Overall, these data suggest that the sensitivity of enteric neurons to morphine is enhanced in the presence of Tat. Opiates and HIV-1 may uniquely interact to exacerbate the deleterious effects of HIV-1-infection and opiate exposure on GI function.

The present study demonstrates that HIV-1 Tat significantly increases neuronal sensitivity to morphine in enteric neurons by modulating sodium channel availability. Additionally, the effects of morphine on gastrointestinal (GI) motility are significantly enhanced in the presence of Tat in vivo. In the setting of HIV-1 infection, this sensitization needs to be considered for opioid therapy in these patients.

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