Background: Persistent systemic infection results in excessive trafficking of peripheral immune cells into the central nervous system (CNS), thereby contributing to sustained neuroinflammation that leads to neurocognitive deficits. In this study, we explored the role of opportunistic systemic infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae in the recruitment of peripheral leukocytes into the CNS and its contribution to HIV-1-associated neurocognitive disorders in opioid-dependent individuals. Methods: Wild-type B6CBAF1 (wt), μ-opioid receptor knockout (MORKO), FVB/N luciferase transgenic, and Toll-like receptor 2 and 4 knockout (TLR2KO and TLR4KO) mice were subcutaneously implanted with morphine/placebo pellet followed by HIV-1 Transactivator of transcription (Tat) protein injection intravenously and S. pneumoniae administration intraperitoneally. On postoperative day 5, brains perfused with phosphate-buffered saline were harvested and subjected to immunohistochemistry (for bacterial trafficking and chemokine ligand generation), flow cytometry (for phenotypic characterization of CNS trafficked immune cells), Western blot, and real-time PCR (for ligand expression). Results: Our results show differential leukocyte trafficking of T lymphocytes (CD3+) and inflammatory monocytes (Ly6C+) into the CNS of mice treated with morphine, HIV-1 Tat, and/or S. pneumoniae. In addition, we demonstrate a Trojan horse mechanism for bacterial dissemination across the blood-brain barrier into the CNS by monocytes. Activation of TLRs on microglia induced a chemokine gradient that facilitated receptor-dependent trafficking of peripheral immune cells into the CNS. HIV-1 Tat induced trafficking of Ly6C+ and CD3+ cells into the CNS; infection with S. pneumoniae facilitated infiltration of only T lymphocytes into the CNS. We also observed differential chemokine secretion in the CNS, with CCL5 being the predominant chemokine following HIV-1 Tat treatment, which was potentiated further with morphine. S. pneumoniae alone led to preferential induction of CXCL12. Furthermore, we attributed a regulatory role for TLRs in the chemokine-mediated trafficking of leukocytes into the CNS. Chronic morphine and HIV-1 Tat, in the context of systemic S. pneumoniae co-infection, differentially modulated induction of TLR2/4, which consequently facilitated trafficking of TLR2→CD3 + CCR5+ and TLR4→Ly6C+(CCR5+/CXCR4+) immune cells into the CNS. Conclusion: Our murine study suggests that secondary infection in opioid-dependent individuals infected with HIV-1 augments peripheral leukocyte trafficking as a consequence of sustained chemokine gradients in the CNS.
- HIV-1 Tat
- Systemic bacterial infection