HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND) remains highly prevalent in HIV infected individuals and represents a special group of neuropathological disorders, which are associated with HIV-1 viral proteins, such as transactivator of transcription (Tat) protein. Cocaine abuse increases the incidence of HAND and exacerbates its severity by enhancing viral replication. Perturbation of dopaminergic transmission has been implicated as a risk factor of HAND. The presynaptic dopamine (DA) transporter (DAT) is essential for DA homeostasis and dopaminergic modulation of the brain function including cognition. Tat and cocaine synergistically elevate synaptic DA levels by acting directly on human DAT (hDAT), ultimately leading to dysregulation of DA transmission. Through integrated computational modeling and experimental validation, key residues have been identified in hDAT that play a critical role in Tat-induced inhibition of DAT and induce transporter conformational transitions. This review presents current information regarding neurological changes in DAT-mediated dopaminergic system associated with HIV infection, DAT-mediated adaptive responses to Tat as well as allosteric modulatory effects of novel compounds on hDAT. Understanding the molecular mechanisms by which Tat induces DAT-mediated dysregulation of DA system is of great clinical interest for identifying new targets for an early therapeutic intervention for HAND.

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Published in Pharmacology & Therapeutics, v. 183, p. 78-89.

© 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

This manuscript version is made available under the CC‐BY‐NC‐ND 4.0 license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.

The document available for download is the author's post-peer-review final draft of the article.

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This research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to Jun Zhu (R01DA035714 and R21DA041932). The synthesis of the compounds was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to Subramaniam Ananthan (R33 DA029962).