Although microglia are the only cells found to be productively infected in the central nervous system of acquired immunodeficiency disease syndrome (AIDS) patients, there is extensive white and gray matter disease nonetheless. This neuropathogenesis is believed to be due to indirect mechanisms other than infection with human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1). Cytokines and toxic small molecules have been implicated in the clinical and histopathological findings in CNS AIDS. Previously, we have demonstrated in rodent glial cultures the presence of biologically active epitopes of gp120 and gp41 that are capable of inducing interleukin 1 and tumor necrosis factor alpha. In this study, we map the HIV-1 envelope epitopes that induce nitric oxide, inducible nitric oxide synthase, interleukin 1, and tumor necrosis factor alpha in human glial cultures. Epitopes in the carboxy terminus of gp120 and the amino terminus of gp41 induce these proinflammatory entities. In addition, we compare HIV-1 infection and pathology in glial cells derived from human brain taken at different states of maturation (fetal, neonatal, and adult brain) in an effort to address some of the clinical and histological differences seen in vivo. This study demonstrates that, in the absence of virus infection and even in the absence of distinct viral tropism, human glia respond like rodent glia to non-CD4-binding epitopes of gp120/gp41 with cytokine and nitric oxide production. Differences among fetal, neonatal, and adult glial cells' infectivity and cytokine production indicate that, in addition to functional differences of glia at different stages of development, cofactors in vitro and in vivo may also be critical in facilitating the biological responses of these cells to HIV-1.

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