The present study demonstrates HIV-1 Tat-mediated epigenetic downregulation of microglial miR-124 and its association with microglial activation. Exposure of mouse primary microglia isolated from newborn pups of either sex to HIV-1 Tat resulted in decreased expression of primary miR-124-1, primary miR-124-2 as well as the mature miR-124. In parallel, HIV-1 Tat exposure to mouse primary microglial cells resulted in increased expression of DNA methylation enzymes, such as DNMT1, DNMT3A, and DNMT3B, which were also accompanied by increased global DNA methylation. Bisulfite-converted genomic DNA sequencing in the HIV-1 Tat-exposed mouse primary microglial cells further confirmed increased DNA methylation of the primary miR-124-1 and primary miR-124-2 promoters. Bioinformatic analyses identified MECP2 as a novel 3’-UTR target of miR-124. This was further validated in mouse primary microglial cells wherein HIV-1 Tat-mediated downregulation of miR-124 resulted in increased expression of MECP2, leading in turn to further repression of miR-124 via the feedback loop. In addition to MECP2, miR-124 also modulated the levels of STAT3 through its binding to the 3’-UTR, leading to microglial activation. Luciferase assays and Ago2 immunoprecipitation determined the direct binding between miR-124 and 3’-UTR of both MECP2 and STAT3. Gene silencing of MECP2 and DNMT1 and overexpression of miR-124 blocked HIV-1 Tat-mediated downregulation of miR-124 and microglial activation. In vitro findings were also confirmed in the basal ganglia of SIV-infected rhesus macaques (both sexes). In summary, our findings demonstrate a novel mechanism of HIV-1 Tat-mediated activation of microglia via downregulation of miR-124, leading ultimately to increased MECP2 and STAT3 signaling.
- DNA methylation
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