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AIDS Research and Therapy

HIV-1 transgene expression in rats induces differential expression of tumor necrosis factor alpha and zinc transporters in the liver and the lung



Highly effective antiviral treatment can suppress HIV-1 infection, but the chronic effects of HIV-1-related viral proteins, including gp120 and Tat, on organs such as the lungs can be damaging. HIV-1 transgenic rodent models are useful for studying the systemic effects of these proteins independently of viral infection. We have previously shown that HIV-1 transgene expression (and therefore, HIV-1-related protein expression) in rats decreases alveolar macrophage zinc levels and phagocytic capacity by unknown mechanisms. We hypothesized that HIV-1 transgene expression induces chronic inflammation and zinc sequestration within the liver and thereby decreases zinc bioavailability in the lung. We examined the expression of the pro-inflammatory cytokine, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα), the zinc storage protein, metallothionein (MT1), and the zinc exporter, ZNT1 in the livers and the lungs of wild type and HIV-1 transgenic rats ± dietary zinc supplementation. In addition, we measured zinc levels, the zinc importing protein ZIP1, and the phagocytic capacity in the alveolar macrophages.


HIV-1 transgene expression increased the liver-specific expression of TNFα, suggesting a chronic inflammatory response within the liver in response to HIV-1-related protein expression. In parallel, HIV-1 transgene expression significantly increased MT1 and ZNT1 expression in the liver as compared to the lung, a pattern that is consistent with zinc sequestration in the liver as occurs during systemic inflammation. Further, HIV-1 transgene expression decreased intracellular zinc levels and increased expression of ZIP1 in the alveolar macrophages, a pattern consistent with zinc deficiency, and decreased their bacterial phagocytic capacity. Interestingly, dietary zinc supplementation in HIV-1 transgenic rats decreased gene expression of TNFα, MT1, and ZNT1 in the liver while simultaneously increasing their expression in the lung. In parallel, zinc supplementation increased alveolar macrophage intracellular zinc levels and bacterial phagocytic capacity in HIV-1 transgenic rats.


Taken together, these findings suggest that chronic HIV-1-related protein expression causes liver inflammation and zinc sequestration, which in turn limits zinc bioavailability in the lung and thereby impairs alveolar macrophage phagocytic function. Importantly, dietary zinc supplementation decreases liver inflammation and zinc sequestration and restores alveolar macrophage phagocytic function in HIV-1 transgenic rats, a result with potential clinical implications for improving lung health in HIV-1-infected individuals.


pulmonary; alveolar macrophages; AIDS; rodent; inflammation; micronutrients



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Information in this article was accurate in October 6, 2011. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.