Astrocytes are HIV reservoirs in the brain: A cell type with poor HIV infectivity and replication but efficient cell-to-cell viral transfer

Silvana Valdebenito, Paul Castellano, David Ajasin, Eliseo A. Eugenin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The major barrier to eradicating Human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV) infection is the generation of tissue-associated quiescent long-lasting viral reservoirs refractory to therapy. Upon interruption of anti-retroviral therapy (ART), HIV replication can be reactivated. Within the brain, microglia/macrophages and a small population of astrocytes are infected with HIV. However, the role of astrocytes as a potential viral reservoir is becoming more recognized because of the improved detection and quantification of HIV viral reservoirs. In this report, we examined the infectivity of human primary astrocytes in vivo and in vitro, and their capacity to maintain HIV infection, become latently infected, be reactivated, and transfer new HIV virions into neighboring cells. Analysis of human brain tissue sections obtained from HIV-infected individuals under effective and prolonged ART indicates that a small population of astrocytes has integrated HIV-DNA. In vitro experiments using HIV-infected human primary astrocyte cultures confirmed a low percentage of astrocytes had integrated HIV-DNA, with poor to undetectable replication. Even in the absence of ART, long-term culture results in latency that could be transiently reactivated with histone deacetylase inhibitor, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), or methamphetamine. Reactivation resulted in poor viral production but efficient cell-to-cell viral transfer into cells that support high viral replication. Together, our data provide a new understanding of astrocytes' role as viral reservoirs within the central nervous system (CNS). (Figure presented.).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)429-443
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of neurochemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • NeuroHIV
  • anti-retroviral
  • astrocytes
  • cure
  • latency
  • reactivation
  • reservoirs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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