Transcriptome analyses identify key cellular factors associated with HIV-1-associated neuropathogenesis in infected men

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HIV-1 viral proteins and host inflammatory factors have a direct role in neuronal toxicity in vitro; however, the contribution of these factors in vivo in HIV-1-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND) is not fully understood. We applied novel Systems Biology approaches to identify specific cellular and viral factors and their related pathways that are associated with different stages of HAND.


A cross-sectional study of individuals enrolled in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study including HIV-1-seronegative (N = 36) and HIV-1-seropositive individuals without neurocognitive symptoms (N = 16) or with mild neurocognitive disorder (MND) (N = 8) or HIV-associated dementia (HAD) (N = 16).


A systematic evaluation of global transcriptome of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) obtained from HIV-1-seronegative individuals and from HIV-1-positive men without neurocognitive symptoms, or MND or HAD was performed.


MND and HAD were associated with specific changes in mRNA transcripts and microRNAs in PBMCs. Comparison of upstream regulators and TimePath analyses identified specific cellular factors associated with MND and HAD, whereas HIV-1 viral proteins played a greater role in HAD. In addition, expression of specific microRNAs – miR-let-7a, miR-124, miR-15a and others – were found to correlate with mRNA gene expression and may have a potential protective role in asymptomatic HIV-1-seropositive individuals by regulating cellular signal transduction pathways downstream of chemokines and cytokines.


These results identify signature transcriptome changes in PBMCs associated with stages of HAND and shed light on the potential contribution of host cellular factors and viral proteins in HAND development.

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