L-Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. Astrocytes maintain low levels of synaptic glutamate by high-affinity uptake and defects in this function may lead to neuronal cell death by excitotoxicity. We tested the effects of HIV-1 and its envelope glycoprotein gp120 upon glutamate uptake and expression of glutamate transporters EAAT1 and EAAT2 in fetal human astrocytes in vitro. Astrocytes isolated from fetal tissues between 16 and 19 weeks of gestation expressed EAAT1 and EAAT2 RNA and proteins as detected by Northern blot analysis and immunoblotting, respectively, and the cells were capable of specific glutamate uptake. Exposure of astrocytes to HIV-1 or gp120 significantly impaired glutamate uptake by the cells, with maximum inhibition within 6 h, followed by gradual decline during 3 days of observation. HIV-1-infected cells showed a 59% reduction in Vmax for glutamate transport, indicating a reduction in the number of active transporter sites on the cell surface. Impaired glutamate transport after HIV-1 infection or gp120 exposure correlated with a 40-70% decline in steady-state levels of EAAT2 RNA and protein. EAAT1 RNA and protein levels were less affected. Treatment of astrocytes with tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) decreased the expression of both EAAT1 and EAAT2, but neither HIV-1 nor gp120 were found to induce TNF-α production by astrocytes. These findings demonstrate that HIV-1 and gp120 induce transcriptional downmodulation of the EAAT2 transporter gene in human astrocytes and coordinately attenuate glutamate transport by the cells. Reduction of the ability of HIV-1-infected astrocytes to take up glutamate may contribute to the development of neurological disease.
- Glutamate uptake