Treatment of dopaminergic rat PC12 cells with human immunodeficiency virus, type 1 (HIV-1) Tat protein or tat cDNA inhibited the expression of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), the rate-limiting enzyme for the dopamine biosynthetic pathway, as well as the production and release of dopamine into the culture medium. Moreover, the Tat addition to PC12 cells up-regulated the expression of the inducible cAMP early repressor (ICER), a specific member of the cAMP-responsive element modulator transcription factor family, in a cAMP-dependent manner. In turn, ICER overexpression abrogated the transcription activity of the TH promoter in PC12 cells, strongly suggesting ICER involvement in Tat-mediated inhibition of TH gene expression. In vivo injection of synthetic HIV-1 Tat protein into the striatum of healthy rats induced a subclinical Parkinson's-like disease that became manifested only when the animals were treated with amphetamine. As early as one week postinjection, the histochemical examination of the rat substantia nigra showed a reduced staining of neurons expressing TH followed by a loss of TH(+) neurons at later time points. As Tat protein can be locally released into the central nervous system by HIV-1-infected microglial cells, our findings may contribute to the explanation of the pathogenesis of the motorial abnormalities often reported in HIV-1 seropositive individuals.
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