17 June 2019
HIV-1 Tat is known to be released by HIV infected non-neuronal cells in the brain, and after entering neurons, compromises brain homeostasis by impairing pro-survival pathways, thus contributing to the development of HIV-associated CNS disorders commonly observed in individuals living with HIV. Here, we demonstrate that synapsins, phosphoproteins that are predominantly expressed in neuronal cells and play a vital role in modulating neurotransmitter release at the pre-synaptic terminal, and neuronal differentiation become targets for Tat through autophagy and protein quality control pathways. We demonstrate that the presence of Tat in neurons results in downregulation of BAG3, a co-chaperone for heat shock proteins (Hsp70/Hsc70) that is implicated in protein quality control (PQC) processes by eliminating mis-folded and damaged proteins, and selective macroautophagy. Our results show that treatment of cells with Tat or suppression of BAG3 expression by siRNA in neuronal cells disturbs subcellular distribution of synapsins and synaptotagmin 1 (Syt1) leading to their accumulation in the neuronal soma and along axons in a punctate pattern, rather than being properly distributed at axon-terminals. Further, our results revealed that synapsins partially lost their stability and their removal via lysosomal autophagy was noticeably impaired in cells with low levels of BAG3. The observed impairment of lysosomal autophagy, under this condition, is likely caused by cells losing their ability to process LC3-I to LC3-II, in part due to a decrease in the ATG5 levels upon BAG3 knockdown. These observations ascribe a new function for BAG3 in controlling synaptic communications and illuminate a new downstream target for Tat to elicit its pathogenic effect in impacting neuronal cell function and behavior.