HIV-associated neurological dysfunction is observed in more than half of the HIV-infected population, even in the current antiretroviral era. The mechanisms by which HIV mediates CNS dysfunction are not well understood but have been associated with the presence of long-lasting HIV reservoirs. In the CNS, macrophage/microglia and a small population of astrocytes harbor the virus. However, the low number of HIV-infected cells does not correlate with the high degree of damage, suggesting that mechanisms of damage amplification may be involved. Here, we demonstrate that the survival mechanism of HIV-infected cells and the apoptosis of surrounding uninfected cells is regulated by inter-organelle interactions among the mitochondria/Golgi/endoplasmic reticulum system and the associated signaling mediated by IP3 and calcium. We identified that latently HIV-infected astrocytes had elevated intracellular levels of IP3, a master regulator second messenger, which diffuses via gap junctions into neighboring uninfected astrocytes resulting in their apoptosis. In addition, using laser capture microdissection, we confirmed that bystander apoptosis of uninfected astrocytes and the survival of HIV-infected astrocytes were dependent on mitochondrial function, intracellular calcium, and IP3 signaling. Blocking gap junction channels did not prevent an increase in IP3 or inter-organelle dysfunction in HIV-infected cells but reduced the amplification of apoptosis into uninfected neighboring cells. Our data provide a mechanistic explanation for bystander damage induced by surviving infected cells that serve as viral reservoirs and provide potential targets for interventions to reduce the devastating consequences of HIV within the brain.
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