Recent clinical research suggests that repeated use of opioid pain medications can increase neuropathic pain in people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV; PLWH). Therefore, it is significant to elucidate the exact mechanisms of HIV-related chronic pain. HIV infection and chronic morphine induce proinflammatory factors, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF)α acting through tumor necrosis factor receptor I (TNFRI). HIV coat proteins and/or chronic morphine increase mitochondrial superoxide in the spinal cord dorsal horn (SCDH). Recently, emerging cytoplasmic caspase-11 is defined as a noncanonical inflammasome and can be activated by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Here, we tested our hypothesis that HIV coat glycoprotein gp120 with chronic morphine activates a TNFRI-mtROS-caspase-11 pathway in rats, which increases neuroinflammation and neuropathic pain.
Neuropathic pain was induced by repeated administration of recombinant gp120 with morphine (gp120/M) in rats. Mechanical allodynia was assessed using von Frey filaments, and thermal latency using hotplate test. Protein expression of spinal TNFRI and cleaved caspase-11 was examined using western blots. The image of spinal mitochondrial superoxide was examined using MitoSox Red (mitochondrial superoxide indicator) image assay. Immunohistochemistry was used to examine the location of TNFRI and caspase-11 in the SCDH. Intrathecal administration of antisense oligodeoxynucleotide (AS-ODN) against TNFRI, caspase-11 siRNA, or a scavenger of mitochondrial superoxide was given for antinociceptive effects. Statistical tests were done using analysis of variance (1- or 2-way), or 2-tailed t test.
Intrathecal gp120/M induced mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia lasting for 3 weeks (P < .001). Gp120/M increased the expression of spinal TNFRI, mitochondrial superoxide, and cleaved caspase-11. Immunohistochemistry showed that TNFRI and caspase-11 were mainly expressed in the neurons of the SCDH. Intrathecal administration of antisense oligonucleotides against TNFRI, Mito-Tempol (a scavenger of mitochondrial superoxide), or caspase-11 siRNA reduced mechanical allodynia and thermal hyperalgesia in the gp120/M neuropathic pain model. Spinal knockdown of TNFRI reduced MitoSox profile cell number in the SCDH; intrathecal Mito-T decreased spinal caspase-11 expression in gp120/M rats. In the cultured B35 neurons treated with TNFα, pretreatment with Mito-Tempol reduced active caspase-11 in the neurons.
These results suggest that spinal TNFRI-mtROS-caspase 11 signal pathway plays a critical role in the HIV-associated neuropathic pain state, providing a novel approach to treating chronic pain in PLWH with opioids.