Human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) enters the brain by crossing the blood–brain barrier (BBB) as both free virus and within infected immune cells. Previous work showed that activation of the innate immune system with lipopolysaccharide (LPS) enhances free virus transport both in vivo and across monolayer monocultures of brain microvascular endothelial cells (BMECs) in vitro.
Here, we used monocultures and co-cultures of brain pericytes and brain endothelial cells to examine the crosstalk between these cell types in mediating the LPS-enhanced permeation of radioactively-labeled HIV-1 (I-HIV) across BMEC monolayers.
We found that brain pericytes when co-cultured with BMEC monolayers magnified the LPS-enhanced transport of I-HIV without altering transendothelial electrical resistance, indicating that pericytes affected the transcytotic component of HIV-1 permeation. As LPS crosses the BBB poorly if at all, and since pericytes are on the abluminal side of the BBB, we postulated that luminal LPS acts indirectly on pericytes through abluminal secretions from BMECs. Consistent with this, we found that the pattern of secretion of cytokines by pericytes directly exposed to LPS was different than when the pericytes were exposed to the abluminal fluid from LPS-treated BMEC monolayers.