“Background: Although the advent of combination anti-retroviral therapy (cART) has transformed HIV into a manageable chronic disease, an estimated 30-50% of people living with HIV (PLWH) exhibit cognitive and motor deficits collectively known as HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). A key driver of HAND neuropathology is chronic neuroinflammation, where proinflammatory mediators produced by activated microglia and macrophages are thought to inflict neuronal injury and loss. Moreover, the dysregulation of the microbiota-gut-brain axis (MGBA) in PLWH, consequent to gastrointestinal dysfunction and dysbiosis, can lead to neuroinflammation and persistent cognitive impairment, which underscores the need for new interventions.
Methods: We performed RNA-seq and microRNA profiling in basal ganglia (BG), metabolomics (plasma) and shotgun metagenomic sequencing (colon contents) in uninfected and SIV-infected rhesus macaques (RMs) administered vehicle (VEH/SIV) or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (THC/SIV).
Results: Long-term, low-dose THC reduced neuroinflammation and dysbiosis and significantly increased plasma endocannabinoid, endocannabinoid-like, glycerophospholipid and indole-3-propionate levels in chronically SIV-infected RMs. Chronic THC potently blocked the upregulation of genes associated with type-I interferon responses (NLRC5, CCL2, CXCL10, IRF1, IRF7, STAT2, BST2), excitotoxicity (SLC7A11), and enhanced protein expression of WFS1 (endoplasmic reticulum stress) and CRYM (oxidative stress) in BG. Additionally, THC successfully countered miR-142-3p-mediated suppression of WFS1 protein expression via a cannabinoid receptor-1-mediated mechanism in HCN2 neuronal cells. Most importantly, THC significantly increased the relative abundance of Firmicutes and Clostridia including indole-3-propionate (C. botulinum, C. paraputrificum, and C. cadaveris) and butyrate (C. butyricum, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Butyricicoccus pullicaecorum) producers in colonic contents.
Conclusion: This study demonstrates the potential of long-term, low-dose THC to positively modulate the MGBA by reducing neuroinflammation, enhancing endocannabinoid levels and promoting the growth of gut bacterial species that produce neuroprotective metabolites, like indole-3-propionate. The findings from this study may benefit not only PLWH on cART, but also those with no access to cART and more importantly, those who fail to suppress the virus under cART.”