HIV-1 Tat induced microglial EVs leads to neuronal synaptodendritic injury: microglia-neuron cross-talk in NeuroHIV

Muthukumar Kannan, Seema Singh, Divya T. Chemparathy, Abiola A. Oladapo, Dinesh Y. Gawande, Shashank M. Dravid, Shilpa Buch, Susmita Sil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Aim: Activation of microglial NLRP3 inflammasome is an essential contributor to neuroinflammation underlying HIV-associated neurological disorders (HAND). Under pathological conditions, microglia-derived-EVs (MDEVs) can affect neuronal functions by delivering neurotoxic mediators to recipient cells. However, the role of microglial NLRP3 in mediating neuronal synaptodendritic injury has remained unexplored to date. In the present study, we sought to assess the regulatory role of HIV-1 Tat induced microglial NLRP3 in neuronal synaptodendritic injury. We hypothesized that HIV-1 Tat mediated microglia EVs carrying significant levels of NLRP3 contribute to the synaptodendritic injury, thereby affecting the maturation of neurons. Methods: To understand the cross-talk between microglia and neuron, we isolated EVs from BV2 and human primary microglia (HPM) cells with or without NLRP3 depletion using siNLRP3 RNA. EVs were isolated by differential centrifugation, characterized by ZetaView nanoparticle tracking analysis, electron microscopy, and western blot analysis for exosome markers. Purified EVs were exposed to primary rat neurons isolated from E18 rats. Along with green fluorescent protein (GFP) plasmid transfection, immunocytochemistry was performed to visualize neuronal synaptodendritic injury. Western blotting was employed to measure siRNA transfection efficiency and the extent of neuronal synaptodegeneration. Images were captured in confocal microscopy, and subsequently, Sholl analysis was performed for analyzing dendritic spines using neuronal reconstruction software Neurolucida 360. Electrophysiology was performed on hippocampal neurons for functional assessment. Results: Our findings demonstrated that HIV-1 Tat induced expression of microglial NLRP3 and IL1β, and further that these were packaged in microglial exosomes (MDEV) and were also taken up by the neurons. Exposure of rat primary neurons to microglial Tat-MDEVs resulted in downregulation of synaptic proteins-PSD95, synaptophysin, excitatory vGLUT1, as well as upregulation of inhibitory proteins-Gephyrin, GAD65, thereby implicating impaired neuronal transmissibility. Our findings also showed that Tat-MDEVs not only caused loss of dendritic spines but also affected numbers of spine sub-types-mushroom and stubby. Synaptodendritic injury further affected functional impairment as evidenced by the decrease in miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs). To assess the regulatory role of NLRP3 in this process, neurons were also exposed to Tat-MDEVs from NLRP3 silenced microglia. Tat-MDEVs from NLRP3 silenced microglia exerted a protective role on neuronal synaptic proteins, spine density as well as mEPSCs. Conclusion: In summary, our study underscores the role of microglial NLRP3 as an important contributor to Tat-MDEV mediated synaptodendritic injury. While the role of NLRP3 in inflammation is well-described, its role in EV-mediated neuronal damage is an interesting finding, implicating it as a target for therapeutics in HAND.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-149
Number of pages17
JournalExtracellular Vesicles and Circulating Nucleic Acids
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


  • NLRP3
  • mEPSC
  • microglia-derived EVs
  • synaptodendritic injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology


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