Antiretroviral Drugs Promote Amyloidogenesis by De-Acidifying Endolysosomes

Liang Hui, Yan Ye, Mahmoud L. Soliman, Koffi L. Lakpa, Nicole M. Miller, Zahra Afghah, Jonathan D. Geiger, Xuesong Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Antiretroviral therapeutics (ART) have effectively increased the long-term survival of HIV-1 infected individuals. However, the prevalence of HIV-1 associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) has increased and so too have clinical manifestations and pathological features of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in people living with HIV-1/AIDS. Although underlying mechanisms are not clear, chronic exposure to ART drugs has been implicated in the development of AD-like symptoms and pathology. ART drugs are categorized according to their mechanism of action in controlling HIV-1 levels. All ART drugs are organic compounds that can be classified as being either weak acids or weak bases, and these physicochemical properties may be of central importance to ART drug-induced AD-like pathology because weak bases accumulate in endolysosomes, weak bases can de-acidify endolysosomes where amyloidogenesis occurs, and endolysosome de-acidification increases amyloid beta (Aβ) protein production and decreases Aβ degradation. Here, we investigated the effects of ART drugs on endolysosome pH and Aβ levels in rat primary cultured neurons. ART drugs that de-acidified endolysosomes increased Aβ levels, whereas those that acidified endolysosomes decreased Aβ levels. Acidification of endolysosomes with the mucolipin transient receptor potential (TRPML) channel agonist ML-SA1 blocked ART drug-induced increases in Aβ levels. Further, ART drug-induced endolysosome de-acidification increased endolysosome sizes; effects that were blocked by ML-SA1-induced endolysosome acidification. These results suggest that ART drug-induced endolysosome de-acidification plays an important role in ART drug-induced amyloidogenesis and that endolysosome acidification might attenuate AD-like pathology in HIV-1 positive people taking ART drugs that de-acidify endolysosomes. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-168
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Amyloid beta
  • Antiretroviral therapy
  • Endolysosome pH

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Pharmacology


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