We have demonstrated that human brain capillary endothelial (HBCE) cells, unlike umbilical or aortic endothelial cells are permissively infected by HIV. HIV infection of HBCE cells is noncytolytic and is mediated by a CD4- and GalCer-independent mechanism, implying that HBCE cell tropic strains utilize a unique receptor. The V3 loop of gp120 appears to be important in this reaction. T-cell tropic but not brain-derived macrophage tropic HIV strains selectively infect brain endothelium suggesting that T-cell tropism is important for HIV entry through the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The ability of HIV to infect cells that compose the BBB implies that the virus may be directly involved in the BBB dysfunction observed in. AIDS patients. HIV infection of HBCE cells may allow the flow of cytokines or toxic metabolites from the circulating blood into the brain parenchyma either by disrupting tight junctions or by altering the ability of the cells to regulate transport of substances across the BBB by transcytosis. HIV infection may also result in endothelial cell-induced astrocytosis by release of cytotoxic substances or modulation of abluminal surface antigens which contact astrocytic foot processes. Finally, HIV infection of the brain endothelium could facilitate virus entry to the CNS either by infection of HBCE cells or via entry of HIV-infected leucocytes. The establishment of our in vitro HIV-HBCE cell system will allow us to explore the potential mechanisms which mediate AIDS dementia.
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