Author ORCID Identifier

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Pamela E. Knapp

Second Advisor

Kurt F. Hauser

Third Advisor

Babette Fuss

Fourth Advisor

Devanand Sarkar

Fifth Advisor

Raymond J. Colello


Human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is known to cause a spectrum of neurological, behavioral and motor deficits collectively termed as HIV-1 associated neurocognitive impairments (HAND). Opiates augment HIV-related CNS complications through both direct and indirect mechanisms that disrupt glial and neuronal function. All CNS macroglia and neurons derive from neural progenitor cells (NPCs) during development, and NPCs in the adult brain contribute to repair processes. Since disruptions in NPC function are known to impact CNS populations and brain function in a number of disease/injury conditions, we determined whether HIV ± opiate exposure affected the maturation and fate of human NPCs (hNPCs). As hNPC infection by HIV has occasionally been reported, we also reexamined this question, and parsed between effects due directly to hNPC infection by HIV, or to hNPC dysfunction caused by the infective milieu. Multiple approaches confirmed the infection of hNPCs by R5 tropic (CCR5 utilizing) HIVBaL, and demonstrated that active infection could be sequentially transferred to naïve hNPCs. Exposure to supernatant from HIVBaL-infected cells (HIVsup) reduced hNPC proliferation and led to premature differentiation into astrocytes and neurons. Morphine co-exposure prolonged hNPC infection and exacerbated functional effects of HIVsup. Neither purified virions nor UV-inactivated HIVsup altered proliferation, indicating that this effect did not require infection. Gene array analysis and RT-qPCR with immunoblot validation suggested that Cdk5 signaling was involved in HIV-morphine interactions. siRNA-mediated knockdown of Cdk5 expression attenuated the effect of HIV-1 and morphine on hNPC proliferation and MAP2 differentiation, but also increased hNPC death. Furthermore, in an attempt to understand the role of mu-opioid receptor (MOR) splice variants on the interactive effect of HIV-1 and morphine on hNPCs, we found that both MOR-1 and MOR-1K are differentially regulated by HIV-1 in these cells. This suggests that these splice variants may have differential actions in the response of hNPCs to HIV-1 and morphine co-exposure. Given the overlap of Cdk5 and MOR signaling, it is likely that MOR-1K and/or MOR-1 converge with Cdk5 in the mechanism underlying HIV-1 and morphine interaction in hNPCs.

Overall, dysregulation of hNPC functions by the infectious environment may create cell population imbalances that contribute to CNS deficits in both adult and pediatric patients. Additionally, infected hNPCs may pass virus to their progeny, and serve as an unappreciated viral reservoir. The recent epidemic of opiate/heroin abuse highlights the clinical importance of HIV and opiate interactions.


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