BACKGROUND: Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-1-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) are characterized by synaptic damage and neuronal loss in the brain. Excessive glutamatergic transmission and loss of cholinergic neurons are the major indicators of HAND. Nicotine acts as a cholinergic channel modulator, and its cognitive-enhancing effect in neurodegenerative and cognitive disorders has been documented. However, it is unclear whether nicotine has any positive effect on memory and synaptic plasticity formation in HAND. METHODS: We investigated the effects of nicotine on synaptic plasticity and hippocampus-prefrontal cortex (PFC)-amygdala-dependent memory formation in the HIV-1 transgenic (Tg) and F344 control rats. RESULTS: Chronic nicotine treatment (0.4 mg/kg nicotine, base, subcutaneously) significantly attenuated the cognitive deficits in the HIV-1Tg rats in both the spatial and contextual fear memories but impaired the contextual learning memory in the F344 rats. To determine the role of nicotine in the synaptic dysfunction caused by HIV-1 proteins, we analyzed the expression of key representative genes related to synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, PFC, and amygdala of the HIV-1Tg and F344 rats using a custom-designed qRT-PCR array. The HIV-1 proteins significantly altered the glutamate receptor-mediated intracellular calcium cascade and its downstream signaling cascade in a brain region-specific manner. Further, chronic nicotine treatment reversed the effect of HIV-1 proteins on the expression of genes involved in synaptic plasticity in the three brain regions. The effects of nicotine differed significantly in the HIV-1Tg and F344 rats. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings indicate that nicotine can attenuate the effect of HIV viral proteins on cognitive function and produce a brain region- and strain-specific effect on the intracellular signaling cascades involved in synaptic plasticity and memory formation.
Nesil, T., Cao, J., Yang, Z., Chang, S. L., & Li, M. D. (2015). Nicotine attenuates the effect of HIV-1 proteins on the neural circuits of working and contextual memories. Molecular Brain, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13041-015-0134-x