Neuroinflammation associated with HIV-1 infection is a problem affecting ∼50% of HIV-infected individuals. NLR family pyrin domain containing 3 (NLRP3) inflammasome has been implicated in HIV-induced microglial activation, but the mechanism(s) remain unclear. Because HIV-1 Transactivator of Transcription (Tat) protein continues to be present despite antiretroviral therapy and activates NF-kB, we hypothesized that Tat could prime the NLRP3 inflammasome. We found a dose- and time-dependent induction of NLRP3 expression in microglia exposed to Tat compared with control. Tat exposure also time-dependently increased the mature caspase-1 and IL-1β levels and enhanced the IL-1β secretion. These in vitro findings were validated in archival brain tissues from Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV)-infected and uninfected rhesus macaques. Further validation of NLRP3 priming in vivo involved administration of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) to HIV transgenic (Tg) rats followed by assessment of IL-1β mRNA expression and inflammasome activation (ASC oligomers and mature IL-1β). Intriguingly, LPS potentiated upregulation of IL-1β mRNA and inflammasome activation in HIV-Tg rats compared with the wild-type controls. Interestingly, we found an inverse relationship in the expression of NLRP3 and its negative regulator, miR-223, suggesting a miR-223-mediated mechanism for Tat-induced NLRP3 priming. Furthermore, blockade of NLRP3 resulted in decreased IL-1β secretion. Collectively, these findings suggest a novel role of Tat in priming and activating the NLRP3 inflammasome. Therefore, NLRP3 can be envisioned as a therapeutic target for ameliorating Tat-mediated neuroinflammation.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Despite successful suppression of viremia with increased longevity in the era of combined antiretroviral therapy, chronic inflammation with underlying neurocognitive impairment continues to afflict almost 50% of infected individuals. Viral, bacterial, and cellular products have all been implicated in promoting the chronic inflammation found in these individuals. Understanding the molecular mechanism(s) by which viral proteins such as HIV-1 Transactivator of Transcription (Tat) protein can activate microglia is thus of paramount importance. Herein, we demonstrate a novel role of Tat in priming and activating NLR family pyrin domain containing 3 (NLRP3) inflammasomes in microglial cells and in HIV-Tg rats administered lipopolysaccharide. Targeting NLRP3 inflammasome pathway mediators could thus be developed as therapeutic interventions to alleviate or prevent neuroinflammation and subsequent cognitive impairment in HIV-positive patients.