The anti-HIV drug abacavir stimulates β-catenin activity in osteoblast lineage cells

Arnold Z. Olali, Jennillee Wallace, Hemil Gonzalez, Kelsey A. Carpenter, Niyati Patel, Lee C. Winchester, Anthony T. Podany, Ishwarya Venkatesh, Srinivas D. Narasipura, Lena Al-Harthi, Ryan D. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Bone mineral density (BMD) loss in people living with HIV occurs with the initiation of combined antiretroviral therapy (cART), particularly with tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) containing cART. Switching from TDF to abacavir (ABC) or dolutegravir (DTG) leads to increased BMD. Whether BMD gains are due to cessation of TDF or anabolic effects of ABC or DTG is unclear. We investigated the effects of ABC and DTG on osteoblast lineage cells in vitro and in vivo. Primary human osteoblasts and male C57BL/6 mice were treated with individual antiretrovirals (ARVs) or a combination of ABC/DTG/lamivudine (3TC). Nearly all ARVs and cART inhibited osteogenic activity in vitro. Due to the importance of Wnt/β-catenin in bone formation, we further investigated ARV effects on the Wnt/β-catenin pathway. ABC, alone and as part of ABC/DTG/3TC, increased osteoblastic β-catenin activity as indicated by increased TOPFlash activity, hypo-phosphorylated (active) β-catenin staining, and βcatenin targeted gene expression. Mice treated with TDF had decreased lumbar spine BMD and trabecular connectivity density in the vertebrae, while those treated with ABC/DTG/3TC reduced cortical area and thickness in the femur. Mice treated with ABC alone had no bone structural changes, increased circulating levels of the bone formation marker, P1NP, and elevated expression of the Wnt/β-catenin target gene, Lef1, in osteocyte enriched samples. Further, bones from ARV-treated mice were isolated to evaluate ARV distribution. All ARVs were detected in the bone tissue, which was inclusive of bone marrow, but when bone marrow was removed, only TDF, ABC, and DTG were detected at ∼0.1% of the circulating levels. Overall, our findings demonstrate that ABC activates Wnt/β-catenin signaling, but whether this leads to increased bone formation requires further study. Assessing the impact of ARVs on bone is critical to informing ARV selection and/or discovery of regimens that do not negatively impact the skeleton.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberziae037
JournalJBMR Plus
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024


  • abacavir
  • antiretroviral
  • BMD
  • osteoblast
  • Wnt/β-catenin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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