The effects of repetitive stress on tat protein-induced pro-inflammatory cytokine release and steroid receptor expression in the hippocampus of rats
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Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) affects the central nervous system (CNS) that may lead to the development of HIV-associated neuropathologies. Tat protein is one of the viral proteins that have been linked to the neurotoxic effects of HIV. Since many individuals living with HIV often experience significant adverse circumstances, the present study investigated whether exposure to stressful conditions would exacerbate harmful effects of tat protein on brain function. Tat protein (10 μg/10 μl) was injected bilaterally into the dorsal hippocampus of the animal using stereotaxic techniques. The control group received an injection of saline (10 μl). Some control and tat protein-treated animals were subjected to restrain stress for 6 h per day for 28 days and compared to a non-stress group. All animals underwent two behavioural tests, the open field test (OFT) and the novel object recognition test (NORT) to assess their mood state and cognitive function respectively. The release of pro-inflammatory cytokines (TNF-α and IL-1β) and the expression of mineralocorticoid (MR) and glucocorticoid (GR) receptors were also measured to see whether the impact of the repetitive stress on Tat protein-induced behavioural effects was mediated by elements of the immune system and the HPA axis. Rats treated with tat protein showed the following behavioural changes when compared to control animals: there was a significant decrease in time spent in the center of the open field during the OFT, a significant reduction in time spent with the novel object during the NORT, but no change in locomotor activity. Real-time PCR data showed that the expression levels of GR and MR mRNA were significantly reduced, while Western blot analysis showed that the protein expression levels of TNF-α and IL-1β were significantly increased. The present findings indicated that injection of tat protein into the hippocampus of rats not subjected to stress may lead to anxiety-like behaviour and deficits in learning and memory. Tat-treated animals subjected to stress evoked only a modest effect on their behaviour and neurochemistry, while stress alone led to behavioural and neurochemical changes similar to tat protein.
KeywordsHIV-1 HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder Novel object recognition test Glucocorticoid receptors Mineralocorticoid receptors TNF-α and IL-1β
The authors wish to thank the National Research Foundation of South Africa (NRF grant number 83792) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal for financial support, as well as the staff of the Biomedical Resource Centre of the University of KwaZulu-Natal for technical assistance.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.
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