Substance abuse is a major barrier in eradication of the HIV epidemic because it serves as a powerful cofactor for viral transmission, disease progression, and AIDS-related mortality. Cocaine, one of the commonly abused drugs among HIV-1 patients, has been suggested to accelerate HIV disease progression. However, the underlying mechanism remains largely unknown. Therefore, we tested whether cocaine augments HIV-1-associated CD4(+) T-cell decline, a predictor of HIV disease progression. We examined apoptosis of resting CD4(+) T cells from HIV-1-negative and HIV-1-positive donors in our study, because decline of uninfected cells plays a major role in HIV-1 disease progression. Treatment of resting CD4(+) T cells with cocaine (up to 100 μmol/L concentrations) did not induce apoptosis, but 200 to 1000 μmol/L cocaine induced apoptosis in a dose-dependent manner. Notably, treatment of CD4(+) T cells isolated from healthy donors with both HIV-1 virions and cocaine significantly increased apoptosis compared with the apoptosis induced by cocaine or virions alone. Most important, our biochemical data suggest that cocaine induces CD4(+) T-cell apoptosis by increasing intracellular reactive oxygen species levels and inducing mitochondrial depolarization. Collectively, our results provide evidence of a synergy between cocaine and HIV-1 on CD4(+) T-cell apoptosis that may, in part, explain the accelerated disease observed in HIV-1-infected drug abusers.
Copyright © 2014 American Society for Investigative Pathology. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.