Can Tumeric help protect against neurological damage from HIV?

By Angelica Omaiyecurry-selection_istock

The AIDS epidemic has claimed millions of lives, affects millions more, and currently has no cure. What is less known about this disease is that neurological disorders are often associated in those affected by the most common strain of HIV, HIV-1.

These disorders are characterized by neuroinflammation and overactive microglia (the macrophages in your brain and spinal cord). A glycoprotein found on the surface of HIV-1, gp120, has been shown to directly interact with and cause injuries to cells in the central nervous system (gp120 expression is positively correlated to severity of brain damage in individuals infected with HIV-1) possibly through over-activation of neuronal voltage-gated potassium channels (Kv). Microglial cell line treated with gp120 induces overproduction of proinflammatory compounds including tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1) and reactive oxygen species (ROS), all of which are believed to contribute to decreased microglial viability and HIV-1-associated neurologic disorder.

In a paper published in PLOS One, a group of scientists from China’s Jinan University and the University of Hong Kong have recently discovered that a naturally occurring compound found in turmeric may protect microglia from this inflammation and damage. The compound of interest is curcumin (Curcuma longa). You may have ingested it anywhere from the free snack packs on Alaska Airlines to the naturally colored mustard sitting in your fridge. According to the authors, curcumin has already been shown to be a promising treatment for Alzheimer’s disease because “curcumin has an outstanding safety profile… [with] pleiotropic actions including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumor properties and anti-protein-aggregate activities…[and] neuronal protections.”

Could it then help alleviate the neurological damage related to HIV-1? Using lab techniques you might have used in your biochemistry or molecular biology classes (flow cytometry, Western blotting, BCA assays, etc.) Guo et al. demonstrated that migrolial cell viability was protected from gp120 induced damage in the presence of curcumin. Curcumin was also shown to reduce gp120 triggered production of ROS, TNF-α, MCP-1and mitigated gp120’s effects on neuronal voltage-gated potassium channels.

This work could pave the way for future treatments and therapies in the neurological damage causative of HIV-1 gp120. In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to sprinkle more turmeric into your diet!

To read the full article referenced in this post, go to:

Guo L, Xing Y, Pan R, Jiang M, Gong Z, et al. (2013) Curcumin Protects Microglia and Primary Rat Cortical Neurons against HIV-1 gp120-Mediated Inflammation and Apoptosis. PLoS ONE 8(8): e70565. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070565

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