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Papers of the Week

2020 Sep 17


HIV-1 Tat promotes age-related cognitive, anxiety-like, and antinociceptive impairments in female mice that are moderated by aging and endocrine status.


Hypogonadism is a common comorbidity associated with HIV-1 that is more prevalent among infected individuals over the age of 45. The underlying mechanisms are unknown, but both combined antiretroviral therapeutics and HIV-1 proteins, such as trans-activator of transcription protein (Tat), dysregulate steroid-synthetic mechanisms including lipid storage/synthesis and mitochondrial function. Thus, Tat expression may accelerate age-related comorbidities partly by impairing endocrine function. Few studies exist of Tat-mediated behavioral deficits in aged animals and effects of endocrine status have not been investigated. Accordingly, we tested whether conditional Tat expression in aged (~ 1.5 years old), female, Tat-transgenic [Tat(+)] mice increases anxiety-like behavior, impairs cognition, and augments mechanical allodynia, when compared to age-matched controls that do not express Tat protein [Tat(-)]. We further tested whether aged mice that maintained their endocrine status (pre-estropausal) were more resilient to Tat/age-related comorbidities than peri- or post-estropausal mice. Tat and endocrine aging status exerted separate and interacting effects that influenced anxiety-like and cognitive behaviors. Peri- and post-estropausal mice exhibited greater anxiety-like behavior in the elevated plus-maze and impaired learning in the radial arm water maze compared to pre-estropausal mice. Irrespective of estropause status, Tat(+) mice demonstrated impaired learning, reduced grip strength, and mechanical allodynia compared to Tat(-) mice. Tat exposure reduced circulating estradiol in post-estropausal mice and increased the estradiol-to-testosterone ratio in pre-estropausal mice. Changes in circulating estradiol, testosterone, and progesterone correlated with grip strength. Thus, endocrine status is an important factor in age-related anxiety, cognition, neuromuscular function, and allodynia that can be accelerated by HIV-1 Tat protein.