HIV induces expression of complement component C3 in astrocytes by NF-ΚB-dependent activation of interleukin-6 synthesis

Jadwiga Nitkiewicz, Alejandra Borjabad, Susan Morgello, Jacinta Murray, Wei Chao, Luni Emdad, Paul B. Fisher, Mary Jane Potash, David J. Volsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Background: Abnormal activation of the complement system contributes to some central nervous system diseases but the role of complement in HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND) is unclear. Methods: We used real-time PCR and immunohistochemistry to detect complement expression in postmortem brain tissue from HAND patients and controls. To further investigate the basis for viral induction of gene expression in the brain, we studied the effect of HIV on C3 expression by astrocytes, innate immune effector cells, and targets of HIV. Human fetal astrocytes (HFA) were infected with HIV in culture and cellular pathways and factors involved in signaling to C3 expression were elucidated using pharmacological pathway inhibitors, antisense RNA, promoter mutational analysis, and fluorescence microscopy. Results: We found significantly increased expression of complement components including C3 in brain tissues from patients with HAND and C3 was identified by immunocytochemistry in astrocytes and neurons. Exposure of HFA to HIV in culture-induced C3 promoter activity, mRNA expression, and protein production. Use of pharmacological inhibitors indicated that induction of C3 expression by HIV requires NF-ΚB and protein kinase signaling. The relevance of NF-ΚB regulation to C3 induction was confirmed through detection of NF-ΚB translocation into nuclei and inhibition through overexpression of the physiological NF-ΚB inhibitor, I-ΚBα. C3 promoter mutation analysis revealed that the NF-ΚB and SP binding sites are dispensable for the induction by HIV, while the proximal IL-1β/IL-6 responsive element is essential. HIV-treated HFA secreted IL-6, exogenous IL-6 activated the C3 promoter, and anti-IL-6 antibodies blocked HIV activation of the C3 promoter. The activation of IL-6 transcription by HIV was dependent upon an NF-ΚB element within the IL-6 promoter. Conclusions: These results suggest that HIV activates C3 expression in primary astrocytes indirectly, through NF-ΚB-dependent induction of IL-6, which in turn activates the C3 promoter. HIV induction of C3 and IL-6 in astrocytes may contribute to HIV-mediated inflammation in the brain and cognitive dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number23
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Issue number1
StatePublished - 26 Jan 2017


  • Astrocytes
  • Brain tissue
  • Complement component C3
  • HAND
  • HIV
  • HIV-associated dementia
  • IL-6
  • NF-ΚB
  • Neurodegeneration


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