BACKGROUND: HIV Associated Dementia (HAD) is a common complication of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection that erodes the quality of life for patients and burdens health care providers. Intravenous drug use is a major route of HIV transmission, and drug use is associated with increased HAD. Specific proteins released as a consequence of HIV infection (e.g., gp120, the HIV envelope protein and Tat, the nuclear transactivating protein) have been implicated in the pathogenesis of HAD. In primary cultures of human fetal brain tissue, subtoxic doses of gp120 and Tat are capable of interacting with a physiologically relevant dose of cocaine, to produce a significant synergistic neurotoxicity. Using this model system, the neuroprotective potential of gonadal steroids was investigated.

RESULTS: 17beta-Estradiol (17beta-E2), but not 17alpha-estradiol (17alpha-E2), was protective against this combined neurotoxicity. Progesterone (PROG) afforded limited neuroprotection, as did dihydrotestosterone (DHT). The efficacy of 5alpha-testosterone (T)-mediated neuroprotection was robust, similar to that provided by 17beta-E2. In the presence of the specific estrogen receptor (ER) antagonist, ICI-182,780, T's neuroprotection was completely blocked. Thus, T acts through the ER to provide neuroprotection against HIV proteins and cocaine. Interestingly, cholesterol also demonstrated concentration-dependent neuroprotection, possibly attributable to cholesterol's serving as a steroid hormone precursor in neurons.

CONCLUSION: Collectively, the present data indicate that cocaine has a robust interaction with the HIV proteins gp120 and Tat that produces severe neurotoxicity, and this toxicity can be blocked through pretreatment with ER agonists.

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Published in BMC Neuroscience, v. 6, no. 40, p. 1-13.

© 2005 Kendall et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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