Weill Cornell Medicine wins grant to study effects of cannabis on HIV-infected brain tissue
Weill Cornell Medicine has received a five-year, $11,6 million grant from the National Institutes of Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health to study the effects that cannabis, including marijuana and derivative compounds, can have on the brains of people living with HIV.
"We know the virus can cause changes in the brain, but it's not yet clear how cannabis use can interact with the infection," said lead researcher Lishomwa Ndhlovu, a professor of immunology in medicine. the division of infectious diseases at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Cannabis may exacerbate or protect the brain from HIV; researchers don't know yet. "This support from NIDA will allow us to collect the data we need to explore this relationship," said Ndhlovu.
This project is the latest part of the NIDA's SCORCH program, which aims to study how addictive substances can alter the effects of HIV in the brain, at the level of individual cells. This cannabis research, the second SCORCH project based at Weill Cornell Medicine, is led by Ndhlovu, Michael Corley, Assistant Professor of Immunology in Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases, and Dionna Whitney Williams, Assistant Professor of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
An earlier project, launched in 2021, aims to map the effects of chronic opioid exposure on the brain.
Advances in treatment have made HIV a chronic disease. Although people with the virus can now live longer, HIV can still cause damage, especially to the brain. Up to half of people living with HIV may experience a decline in cognitive functions, particularly working memory and attention.
Studies have shown that people with HIV frequently use cannabis, either recreationally or to treat HIV-related symptoms. As a potentially addictive substance, cannabis also impairs the brain, and people with HIV may be at risk for cannabis use disorder.
Cannabis may also have benefits for people living with HIV. It has an anti-inflammatory effect which the researchers believe could alleviate the chronic and harmful inflammation caused by the virus. THE researchers think this inflammation contributes to long-term health problems, including cognitive deficits, that people living with HIV can experience.
"Findings from our lab and others demonstrate that inflammation can influence cognition in people living with HIV," Williams said, "and we are looking to understand whether and how cannabis can mediate these effects." at the molecular level.
To study the interaction between cannabis and HIV, the research team will focus on several regions of the brain, including the hippocampus, where new neurons are formed, in a process essential for learning and memory. Using brain tissue samples taken from human patients after death and from non-human animal models, they intend to study gene activity and the mechanisms that control it inside individual cells. .
"It's unclear exactly how different types of brain cells respond to cannabis in the context of HIV," Corley said. “New single cell technologies will allow us to map these changes at a high enough resolution to examine the effects on specific cell types.
According to the researchers, the information generated by this project could, in the long term, stimulate efforts to better prevent and treat HIV-related cognitive deficits and cannabis use disorders.
Robert O'Brien, assistant professor of immunology in medicine, and Dr. Howard Fine, founding director of the Brain Tumor Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center and associate director for translational research at the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, are also investigators of this project.
The research reported in this press release was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under the award number 1U01DA058527-01 . The content is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.