Efficient expression of HIV in immunocompetent mouse brain reveals a novel nonneurotoxic viral function in hippocampal synaptodendritic injury and memory impairment

Jennifer Kelschenbach, Hongxia He, Boe Hyun Kim, Alejandra Borjabad, Chao Jiang Gu, Wei Chao, Meilan Do, Leroy R. Sharer, Hong Zhang, Ottavio Arancio, Mary Jane Potash, David J. Volsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


HIV causes neurodegeneration and dementia in AIDS patients, buits function in milder cognitive impairments in virologically suppressed patients on antiretroviral therapy is unknown. Such patients are immunocompetent, have low peripheral and brain HIV burdens, and show minimal brain neuropathologyUsing the model of HIV-related memory impairment in EcoHIV-infected conventional mice, we investigated the neurobiological and cognitive consequences oefficient EcoHIV expression in the mouse brain after intracerebral infection. HIV integrated and persisted in an expressed state in brain tissue, was detectable in brain monocytic cells, and caused neuroinflammatory responses and lasting spatial, working, and associative memory impairment. Systemic antiretroviral treatment prevented direct brain infection and memory dysfunction indicating the requirement for HIV expression in the brain for disease. Similarly inoculated murine leukemia virus used as a control replicated in mouse brain but not in monocytic cells and was cognitively benign, linking the disease to HIV-specific functionsMemory impairment correlated in real time with hippocampal dysfunction shown by defective long-term potentiation in hippocampal slices ex vivo and with diffuse synaptodendritic injury in the hippocampus reflected in significant reduction in microtubule-associated protein 2 and synapsin II staining. In contrastthere was no evidence of overt neuronal loss in this region as determined by neuron-specific nuclear protein quantification, TUNEL assay, and histological observations. Our results reveal a novel capacity of HIV to induce neuronal dysfunction and memory impairment independent of neurotoxicity, distinct from the neurotoxicity of HIV infection in dementia. IMPORTANCE HIV neuropathogenesis has been attributed in large measure to neurotoxicity of viral proteins and inflammatory factors produced by infected monocytic cells in the brain. We show here that HIV expression in mouse brain causes lasting memory impairment by a mechanism involving injury to hippocampal synaptodendritic arbors and neuronal function but not overt neuronal loss in the region. Our results mirror the observation of minimal neurodegeneration in cognitively impaired HIV patients on antiretroviral therapy and demonstrate that HIV is nonneurotoxic in certain brain abnormalities that it causes. If neurons comprising the cognition-related networks survive HIV insult, at least for some time, there is a window of opportunity for disease treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00591-19
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2019


  • EcoHIV
  • HAND
  • Mouse models
  • Radial arm water maze
  • Synaptodendritic injury


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