In the absence of effective antiretroviral therapy, infection with clade B human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1) infection commonly progresses to AIDS dementia. However, in India, where clade C infection is most prevalent, severe cognitive impairment due to HIV-1 is reported to be less prevalent. The Tat protein of HIV-1, which is released from HIV-1-infected macrophages, is thought to play a major role in the disruption of neuronal function as well as in the infiltration of macrophages associated with advanced neuropathogenesis. Clade B Tat is excitotoxic to hippocampal neurons by potentiating N-methyl-d-aspartate-induced currents of the zinc-sensitive NR1/NR2A N-methyl-d-aspartate receptor in a zinc-binding-dependent mechanism. This study characterizes the zinc-binding properties of clade C Tat protein. Using ultraviolet spectroscopy and the Ellman reaction, we show that clade C Tat protein binds just one zinc ion per monomer. We then investigated the ability of clade C Tat to block the inhibition of N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors from zinc antagonism through ion chelation. Although clade C Tat enhanced N-methyl-d-aspartate-mediated rat hippocampus neuronal toxicity in the presence of zinc, the increase was significantly less than that observed with clade B Tat. These findings suggest that the observed differences in neuropathogenesis found with HIV-1 clade C infection compared to clade B may, in part, be due to a decrease in Tat-mediated neurotoxicity
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