The Endocannabinoid System as a Potential Therapeutic Target for HIV-1-Associated Neurocognitive Disorder

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“Background: Despite the successful introduction of combined antiretroviral therapy, the prevalence of mild to moderate forms of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND) remains high. It has been demonstrated that neuronal injury caused by HIV is excitotoxic and inflammatory, and it correlates with neurocognitive decline in HAND. Endocannabinoid system (ECS) protects the body from excitotoxicity and neuroinflammation on demand and presents a promising therapeutic target for treating HAND. Here, we firstly discuss the potential pathogenesis of HAND. We secondly discuss the structural and functional changes in the ECS that are currently known among HAND patients. We thirdly discuss current clinical and preclinical findings concerning the neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties of the ECS among HAND patients. Fourth, we will discuss the interactions between the ECS and neuroendocrine systems, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) and hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axes under the HAND conditions. 

Materials and Methods: We have carried out a review of the literature using PubMed to summarize the current state of knowledge on the association between ECS and HAND. 

Results: The ECS may be ideally suited for modulation of HAND pathophysiology. Direct activation of presynaptic cannabinoid receptor 1 or reduction of cannabinoid metabolism attenuates HAND excitotoxicity. Chronic neuroinflammation associated with HAND can be reduced by activating cannabinoid receptor 2 on immune cells. The sensitivity of the ECS to HIV may be enhanced by increased cannabinoid receptor expression in HAND. In addition, indirect regulation of the ECS through modulation of hormone-related receptors may be a potential strategy to influence the ECS and also alleviate the progression of HAND due to the reciprocal inhibition of the ECS by the HPA and HPG axes. 

Conclusions: Taken together, targeting the ECS may be a promising strategy to alleviate the inflammation and neurodegeneration caused by HIV-1 infection. Further studies are required to clarify the role of endocannabinoid signaling in HIV neurotoxicity. Strategies promoting endocannabinoid signaling may slow down cognitive decline of HAND are proposed.”

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