Human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1)-Associated neurocognitive disorder (HAND) remains an important neurological manifestation that adversely affects a patient's quality of life. HIV-1 matrix protein p17 (p17) has been detected in autoptic brain tissue of HAND individuals who presented early with severe AIDS encephalopathy. We hypothesised that the ability of p17 to misfold may result in the generation of toxic assemblies in the brain and may be relevant for HAND pathogenesis. A multidisciplinary integrated approach has been applied to determine the ability of p17 to form soluble amyloidogenic assemblies in vitro. To provide new information into the potential pathogenic role of soluble p17 species in HAND, their toxicological capability was evaluated in vivo. In C. elegans, capable of recognising toxic assemblies of amyloidogenic proteins, p17 induces a specific toxic effect which can be counteracted by tetracyclines, drugs able to hinder the formation of large oligomers and consequently amyloid fibrils. The intrahippocampal injection of p17 in mice reduces their cognitive function and induces behavioral deficiencies. These findings offer a new way of thinking about the possible cause of neurodegeneration in HIV-1-seropositive patients, which engages the ability of p17 to form soluble toxic assemblies.
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