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Open Access Research article

N-acetylcysteine prevents HIV gp 120-related damage of human cultured astrocytes: correlation with glutamine synthase dysfunction

Valeria Visalli14, Carolina Muscoli134, Iolanda Sacco1, Francesca Sculco1, Ernesto Palma1, Nicola Costa1, Carmela Colica1, Domenicantonio Rotiroti1 and Vincenzo Mollace1234*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pharmacobiological Sciences, Faculty of Pharmacy, University "Magna Graecia", Catanzaro, Italy

2 San Raffaele Pisana IRCCS, Rome, Italy

3 Istitute Mondino-Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy

4 Salus Research Institute, Marinella di Bruzzano, Italy

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BMC Neuroscience 2007, 8:106  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-8-106

Published: 6 December 2007

Abstract

Background

HIV envelope gp 120 glycoprotein is released during active HIV infection of brain macrophages thereby generating inflammation and oxidative stress which contribute to the development of the AIDS-Dementia Complex (ADC). Gp120 has also been found capable to generate excitotoxic effect on brain tissue via enhancement of glutamatergic neurotransmission, leading to neuronal and astroglial damage, though the mechanism is still to be better understood.

Here we investigated on the effect of N-acetylcysteine (NAC), on gp120-induced damage in human cultured astroglial cells and the possible contribution of gp120-related reacting oxygen species (ROS) in the imbalanced activity of glutamine synthase (GS), the enzyme that metabolizes glutamate into glutamine within astroglial cells playing a neuroprotective role in brain disorders.

Results

Incubation of Lipari human cultured astroglial cells with gp 120 (0.1–10 nM) produced a significant reduction of astroglial cell viability and apoptosis as evaluated by TUNEL reaction and flow cytometric analysis (FACS). This effect was accompanied by lipid peroxidation as detected by means of malondialdehyde assay (MDA). In addition, gp 120 reduced both glutamine concentration in astroglial cell supernatants and GS expression as detected by immunocytochemistry and western blotting analysis. Pre-treatment of cells with NAC (0.5–5 mM), dose-dependently antagonised astroglial apoptotic cell death induced by gp 120, an effect accompanied by significant attenuation of MDA accumulation. Furthermore, both effects were closely associated with a significant recovery of glutamine levels in cell supernatants and by GS expression, thus suggesting that overproduction of free radicals might contribute in gp 120-related dysfunction of GS in astroglial cells.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the present experiments demonstrate that gp 120 is toxic to astroglial cells, an effect accompanied by lipid peroxidation and by altered glutamine release. All the effects of gp120 on astroglial cells were counteracted by NAC thus suggesting a novel and potentially useful approach in the treatment of glutammatergic disorders found in HAD patients.