HIV-1 gp120 Glycoprotein Interacting with Dendritic Cell-specific Intercellular Adhesion Molecule 3-grabbing Non-integrin (DC-SIGN) Down-Regulates Tight Junction Proteins to Disrupt the Blood Retinal Barrier and Increase Its Permeability

Approximately 70% of HIV-1 infected patients acquire ocular opportunistic infections and manifest eye disorders during the course of their illness. The mechanisms by which pathogens invade the ocular site, however, are unclear. Under normal circumstances, vascular endothelium and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), which possess a well developed tight junction complex, form the blood-retinal barrier (BRB) to prevent pathogen invasion. We hypothesize that disruption of the BRB allows pathogen entry into ocular sites. The hypothesis was tested using in vitro models. We discovered that human RPE cells could bind to either HIV-1 gp120 glycoproteins or HIV-1 viral particles. Furthermore, the binding was mediated by dendritic cell-specific intercellular adhesion molecule 3-grabbing non-integrin (DC-SIGN) expressed on RPE cells. Upon gp120 binding to DC-SIGN, cellular NF-κB signaling was triggered, leading to the induction of matrix metalloproteinases, which subsequently degraded tight junction proteins and disrupted the BRB integrity. DC-SIGN knockdown or prior blocking with a specific antibody abolished gp120-induced matrix metalloproteinase expression and reduced the degradation of tight junction proteins. This study elucidates a novel mechanism by which HIV, type 1 invades ocular tissues and provides additional insights into the translocation or invasion process of ocular complication-associated pathogens.

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