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The progestin-only contraceptive medroxyprogesterone acetate, but not norethisterone acetate, enhances HIV-1 Vpr-mediated apoptosis in human CD4+ T cells through the glucocorticoid receptor

By Michele Tomasicchio, Chanel Avenant, Andrea Du Toit, Roslyn M Ray and Janet P Hapgood


The glucocorticoid receptor (GR) regulates several physiological functions, including immune function and apoptosis. The HIV-1 virus accessory protein, viral protein R (Vpr), can modulate the transcriptional response of the GR. Glucocorticoids (GCs) and Vpr have been reported to induce apoptosis in various cells, including T-cells. We have previously shown that the injectable contraceptive, medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) is a partial to full agonist for the GR, unlike norethisterone acetate (NET-A). We investigated the functional cross talk between the GR and Vpr in inducing apoptosis in CD4 + T-cells, in the absence and presence of GCs and these progestins, as well as progesterone. By using flow cytometry, we show that, in contrast to NET-A and progesterone, the synthetic GR ligand dexamethasone (Dex), cortisol and MPA induce apoptosis in primary CD4 + T-cells. Furthermore, the C-terminal part of the Vpr peptide, or HIV-1 pseudovirus, together with Dex or MPA further increased the apoptotic phenotype, unlike NET-A and progesterone. By a combination of Western blotting, PCR and the use of receptor- selective agonists, we provide evidence that the GR and the estrogen receptor are the only steroid receptors expressed in peripheral blood mononuclear cells. These results, together with the findings that RU486, a GR antagonist, prevents Dex-, MPA- and Vpr-mediated apoptosis, provide evidence for the first time that GR agonists or partial agonists increase apoptosis in primary CD4 + T-cells via the GR. We show that apoptotic induction involves differential expression of key apoptotic genes by both Vpr and GCs/MPA. This work suggests that contraceptive doses of MPA but not NET-A or physiological doses of progesterone could potentially accelerate depletion of CD4 + T-cells in a GR-dependent fashion in HIV-1 positive women, thereby contributing to immunodeficiency. The results imply that choice of progestin used in contraception may be critical to susceptibility and progression of diseases such as HIV-1

Topics: Apoptosis, T cells, HIV-1, Steroids, Gene regulation, Female contraception, Gene expression, T cell receptors
Publisher: Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
Year: 2013
DOI identifier: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062895
OAI identifier:

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