HIV-1 Vpr protein impairs lysosome clearance causing SNCA/alpha-synuclein accumulation in neurons

Maryline Santerre, Sterling P. Arjona, Charles Ns Allen, Shannon Callen, Shilpa Buch, Bassel E. Sawaya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Despite the promising therapeutic effects of combinatory antiretroviral therapy (cART), 20% to 30% of HIV/AIDS patients living with long term infection still exhibit related cognitive and motor disorders. Clinical studies in HIV-infected patients revealed evidence of basal ganglia dysfunction, tremors, fine motor movement deficits, gait, balance, and increased risk of falls. Among older HIV+ adults, the frequency of cases with SNCA/α-synuclein staining is higher than in older healthy persons and may predict an increased risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease. The accumulation of SNCA aggregates known as Lewy Bodies is widely described to be directly linked to motor dysfunction. These aggregates are naturally removed by Macroautophagy/autophagy, a cellular housekeeping mechanism, that can be disturbed by HIV-1. The molecular mechanisms involved in linking HIV-1 proteins and autophagy remain mostly unclear and necessitates further exploration. We showed that HIV-1 Vpr protein triggers the accumulation of SNCA in neurons after decreasing lysosomal acidification, deregulating lysosome positioning, and the expression levels of several proteins involved in lysosomal maturation. Viruses and retroviruses such as HIV-1 are known to manipulate autophagy in order to use it for their replication while blocking the degradative final step, which could destroy the virus itself. Our study highlights how the suppression of neuronal autophagy by HIV-1 Vpr is a mechanism leading to toxic protein aggregation and neurodegeneration. Abbreviations: BLOC1: Biogenesis of Lysosome-related Organelles Complex 1; CART: combinatory antiretroviral therapy; CVB: coxsackievirus; DAPI: 4’,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole; DENV: dengue virus; GFP: green fluorescent protein; HCV: hepatitis C virus; HCMV: human cytomegalovirus; HIV: human immunodeficiency virus; Env: HIV-1 envelope glycoproteins; GAPDH: glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase; VSV: Indiana vesiculovirus; LTR: Long Terminal Repeat; LAMP1: lysosomal associated membrane protein 1; MAP1LC3B/LC3B: microtubule associated protein 1 light chain 3 beta; MLBs: multilamellar bodies; RIPA: Radioimmunoprecipitation assay buffer; SDS-PAGE: sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis; Tat: transactivator of TAR; TEM: transmission electron microscope; Vpr: Viral protein R.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1768-1782
Number of pages15
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2021


  • Alpha-synuclein
  • HIV-1
  • Snapin
  • autophagy
  • lysosomes
  • motor dysfunction
  • neurons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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