Solis-Leal, Antonio, Ann-Marie May, Mahesh Mohan, Jason P Dufour, and Binhua Ling. (2023) 2023. “Duration of Antiretroviral Therapy Impacts the Degree of Residual SIV Infection in the Gut in Long-Term Non-Progressing Chinese Rhesus Macaques”. Journal of Medical Virology 95 (1): e28185.

The gut is a major reservoir in HIV-infected individuals on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and in long-term non-progressors (LTNPs). Whether ART reduces gut infection and reservoirs in LTNPs is unknown. Herein, SIV-infected LTNP Rhesus macaques were treated with short- or long-term ART, and SIV envelope gp120 sequences obtained from single genome amplification were analyzed before and after ART in peripheral blood and the intestine. Although ART does not eliminate SIV in these LTNPs, a longer ART period dramatically reduces SIV infection in the gut. This study highlights the importance of long-term ART in LTNPs to minimize gut infection and prolong remission.

Kulkarni, Viraj, Sahana Jayakumar, Mahesh Mohan, and Smita Kulkarni. (2023) 2023. “Aid or Antagonize: Nuclear Long Noncoding RNAs Regulate Host Responses and Outcomes of Viral Infections”. Cells 12 (7).

Long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) are transcripts measuring >200 bp in length and devoid of protein-coding potential. LncRNAs exceed the number of protein-coding mRNAs and regulate cellular, developmental, and immune pathways through diverse molecular mechanisms. In recent years, lncRNAs have emerged as epigenetic regulators with prominent roles in health and disease. Many lncRNAs, either host or virus-encoded, have been implicated in critical cellular defense processes, such as cytokine and antiviral gene expression, the regulation of cell signaling pathways, and the activation of transcription factors. In addition, cellular and viral lncRNAs regulate virus gene expression. Viral infections and associated immune responses alter the expression of host lncRNAs regulating immune responses, host metabolism, and viral replication. The influence of lncRNAs on the pathogenesis and outcomes of viral infections is being widely explored because virus-induced lncRNAs can serve as diagnostic and therapeutic targets. Future studies should focus on thoroughly characterizing lncRNA expressions in virus-infected primary cells, investigating their role in disease prognosis, and developing biologically relevant animal or organoid models to determine their suitability for specific therapeutic targeting. Many cellular and viral lncRNAs localize in the nucleus and epigenetically modulate viral transcription, latency, and host responses to infection. In this review, we provide an overview of the role of nuclear lncRNAs in the pathogenesis and outcomes of viral infections, such as the Influenza A virus, Sendai Virus, Respiratory Syncytial Virus, Hepatitis C virus, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and Herpes Simplex Virus. We also address significant advances and barriers in characterizing lncRNA function and explore the potential of lncRNAs as therapeutic targets.

Premadasa, Lakmini S, Eunhee Lee, Marina McDew-White, Xavier Alvarez, Sahana Jayakumar, Binhua Ling, Chioma M Okeoma, Siddappa N Byrareddy, Smita Kulkarni, and Mahesh Mohan. (2023) 2023. “Cannabinoid Enhancement of LncRNA MMP25-AS1 MMP25 Interaction Reduces Neutrophil Infiltration and Intestinal Epithelial Injury in HIV SIV Infection”. JCI Insight 8 (7).

Intestinal epithelial barrier dysfunction, a hallmark of HIV/SIV infection, persists despite viral suppression by combination antiretroviral therapy (cART). Emerging evidence suggests a critical role for long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) in maintaining epithelial homeostasis. We simultaneously profiled lncRNA/mRNA expression exclusively in colonic epithelium (CE) of SIV-infected rhesus macaques (RMs) administered vehicle (VEH) or Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Relative to controls, fewer lncRNAs were up- or downregulated in CE of THC/SIV compared with VEH/SIV RMs. Importantly, reciprocal expression of the natural antisense lncRNA MMP25-AS1 (up 2.3-fold) and its associated protein-coding gene MMP25 (attracts neutrophils by inactivating alpha-1 anti-trypsin/SERPINA1) (down 2.2-fold) was detected in CE of THC/SIV RMs. Computational analysis verified 2 perfectly matched complementary regions and an energetically stable (normalized binding free energy = -0.2626) MMP25-AS1/MMP25 duplex structure. MMP25-AS1 overexpression blocked IFN-γ-induced MMP25 mRNA and protein expression in vitro. Elevated MMP25 protein expression in CE of VEH/SIV but not THC/SIV RMs was associated with increased infiltration by myeloperoxidase/CD11b++ neutrophils (transendothelial migration) and epithelial CD47 (transepithelial migration) expression. Interestingly, THC administered in combination with cART increased MMP25-AS1 and reduced MMP25 mRNA/protein expression in jejunal epithelium of SIV-infected RMs. Our findings demonstrate that MMP25-AS1 is a potentially unique epigenetic regulator of MMP25 and that low-dose THC can reduce neutrophil infiltration and intestinal epithelial injury potentially by downregulating MMP25 expression through modulation of MMP25-AS1.

Leinen, Zach J, Rahul Mohan, Lakmini S Premadasa, Arpan Acharya, Mahesh Mohan, and Siddappa N Byrareddy. (2023) 2023. “Therapeutic Potential of Cannabis: A Comprehensive Review of Current and Future Applications”. Biomedicines 11 (10).

Historically, cannabis has been valued for its pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and calming properties. Ancient civilizations like the Egyptians, Greeks, and Chinese medicines recognized their therapeutic potential. The discovery of the endocannabinoid system, which interacts with cannabis phytoconstituents, has scientifically explained how cannabis affects the human immune system, including the central nervous system (CNS). This review explores the evolving world of cannabis-based treatments, spotlighting its diverse applications. By researching current research and clinical studies, we probe into how cannabinoids like Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) help to manage conditions ranging from chronic pain, persistent inflammation, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and neurological disorders to even viral diseases such as Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV), SARS-CoV-2. and the emerging monkeypox. The long-term recreational use of cannabis can develop into cannabis use disorder (CUD), and therefore, understanding the factors contributing to the development and maintenance of cannabis addiction, including genetic predisposition, neurobiological mechanisms, and environmental influences, will be timely. Shedding light on the adverse impacts of CUD underscores the importance of early intervention, effective treatment approaches, and public health initiatives to address this complex issue in an evolving landscape of cannabis policies and perceptions.

Kopcho, Steven, Marina McDew-White, Wasifa Naushad, Mahesh Mohan, and Chioma M Okeoma. (2023) 2023. “Alterations in Abundance and Compartmentalization of MiRNAs in Blood Plasma Extracellular Vesicles and Extracellular Condensates During HIV SIV Infection and Its Modulation by Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) and Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC)”. Viruses 15 (3).

In this follow-up study, we investigated the abundance and compartmentalization of blood plasma extracellular miRNA (exmiRNA) into lipid-based carriers-blood plasma extracellular vesicles (EVs) and non-lipid-based carriers-extracellular condensates (ECs) during SIV infection. We also assessed how combination antiretroviral therapy (cART), administered in conjunction with phytocannabinoid delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), altered the abundance and compartmentalization of exmiRNAs in the EVs and ECs of SIV-infected rhesus macaques (RMs). Unlike cellular miRNAs, exmiRNAs in blood plasma may serve as minimally invasive disease indicators because they are readily detected in stable forms. The stability of exmiRNAs in cell culture fluids and body fluids (urine, saliva, tears, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), semen, blood) is based on their association with different carriers (lipoproteins, EVs, and ECs) that protect them from the activities of endogenous RNases. Here, we showed that in the blood plasma of uninfected control RMs, significantly less exmiRNAs were associated with EVs compared to the level (30% higher) associated with ECs, and that SIV infection altered the profile of EVs and ECs miRNAome (Manuscript 1). In people living with HIV (PLWH), host-encoded miRNAs regulate both host and viral gene expression, which may serve as indicators of disease or treatment biomarkers. The profile of miRNAs in blood plasma of PLWH (elite controllers versus viremic patients) are different, indicating that HIV may alter host miRNAome. However, there are no studies assessing the effect of cART or other substances used by PLWH, such as THC, on the abundance of exmiRNA and their association with EVs and ECs. Moreover, longitudinal exmiRNA profiles following SIV infection, treatment with THC, cART, or THC+cART remains unclear. Here, we serially analyzed miRNAs associated with blood plasma derived EVs and ECs. Methods: Paired EVs and ECs were separated from EDTA blood plasma of male Indian rhesus macaques (RMs) in five treatment groups, including VEH/SIV, VEH/SIV/cART, THC/SIV, THC/SIV/cART, or THC alone. Separation of EVs and ECs was achieved with the unparalleled nano-particle purification tool ─PPLC, a state-of-the-art, innovative technology equipped with gradient agarose bead sizes and a fast fraction collector that allows high resolution separation and retrieval of preparative quantities of sub-populations of extracellular structures. Global miRNA profiles of the paired EVs and ECs were determined with RealSeq Biosciences (Santa Cruz, CA) custom sequencing platform by conducting small RNA (sRNA)-seq. The sRNA-seq data were analyzed using various bioinformatic tools. Validation of key exmiRNA was performed using specific TaqMan microRNA stem-loop RT-qPCR assays. Results: We investigated the effect of cART, THC, or both cART and THC together on the abundance and compartmentalization of blood plasma exmiRNA in EVs and ECs in SIV-infected RMs. As shown in Manuscript 1 of this series, were in uninfected RMs,  30% of exmiRNAs were associated with ECs, we confirmed in this follow up manuscript that exmiRNAs were present in both lipid-based carriers-EVs and non-lipid-based carriers-ECs, with 29.5 to 35.6% and 64.2 to 70.5 % being associated with EVs and ECs, respectively. Remarkably, the different treatments (cART, THC) have distinct effects on the enrichment and compartmentalization pattern of exmiRNAs. In the VEH/SIV/cART group, 12 EV-associated and 15 EC-associated miRNAs were significantly downregulated. EV-associated miR-206, a muscle-specific miRNA that is present in blood, was higher in the VEH/SIV/ART compared to the VEH/SIV group. ExmiR-139-5p that was implicated in endocrine resistance, focal adhesion, lipid and atherosclerosis, apoptosis, and breast cancer by miRNA-target enrichment analysis was significantly lower in VEH/SIV/cART compared to VEH/SIV, irrespective of the compartment. With respect to THC treatment, 5 EV-associated and 21 EC-associated miRNAs were significantly lower in the VEH/THC/SIV. EV-associated miR-99a-5p was higher in VEH/THC/SIV compared to VEH/SIV, while miR-335-5p counts were significantly lower in both EVs and ECs of THC/SIV compared to VEH/SIV. EVs from SIV/cART/THC combined treatment group have significant increases in the count of eight (miR-186-5p, miR-382-5p, miR-139-5p and miR-652, miR-10a-5p, miR-657, miR-140-5p, miR-29c-3p) miRNAs, all of which were lower in VEH/SIV/cART group. Analysis of miRNA-target enrichment showed that this set of eight miRNAs were implicated in endocrine resistance, focal adhesions, lipid and atherosclerosis, apoptosis, and breast cancer as well as cocaine and amphetamine addiction. In ECs and EVs, combined THC and cART treatment significantly increased miR-139-5p counts compared to VEH/SIV group. Significant alterations in these host miRNAs in both EVs and ECs in the untreated and treated (cART, THC, or both) RMs indicate the persistence of host responses to infection or treatments, and this is despite cART suppression of viral load and THC suppression of inflammation. To gain further insight into the pattern of miRNA alterations in EVs and ECs and to assess potential cause-and-effect relationships, we performed longitudinal miRNA profile analysis, measured in terms of months (1 and 5) post-infection (MPI). We uncovered miRNA signatures associated with THC or cART treatment of SIV-infected macaques in both EVs and ECs. While the number of miRNAs was significantly higher in ECs relative to EVs for all groups (VEH/SIV, SIV/cART, THC/SIV, THC/SIV/cART, and THC) longitudinally from 1 MPI to 5 MPI, treatment with cART and THC have longitudinal effects on the abundance and compartmentalization pattern of exmiRNAs in the two carriers. As shown in Manuscript 1 where SIV infection led to longitudinal suppression of EV-associated miRNA-128-3p, administration of cART to SIV-infected RMs did not increase miR-128-3p but resulted in longitudinal increases in six EV-associated miRNAs (miR-484, miR-107, miR-206, miR-184, miR-1260b, miR-6132). Furthermore, administration of cART to THC treated SIV-infected RMs resulted in a longitudinal decrease in three EV-associated miRNAs (miR-342-3p, miR-100-5p, miR181b-5p) and a longitudinal increase in three EC-associated miRNAs (miR-676-3p, miR-574-3p, miR-505-5p). The longitudinally altered miRNAs in SIV-infected RMs may indicate disease progression, while in the cART Group and the THC Group, the longitudinally altered miRNAs may serve as biomarkers of response to treatment. Conclusions: This paired EVs and ECs miRNAome analyses provided a comprehensive cross-sectional and longitudinal summary of the host exmiRNA responses to SIV infection and the impact of THC, cART, or THC and cART together on the miRNAome during SIV infection. Overall, our data point to previously unrecognized alterations in the exmiRNA profile in blood plasma following SIV infection. Our data also indicate that cART and THC treatment independently and in combination may alter both the abundance and the compartmentalization of several exmiRNA related to various disease and biological processes.

Kopcho, Steven, Marina McDew-White, Wasifa Naushad, Mahesh Mohan, and Chioma M Okeoma. (2023) 2023. “SIV Infection Regulates Compartmentalization of Circulating Blood Plasma MiRNAs Within Extracellular Vesicles (EVs) and Extracellular Condensates (ECs) and Decreases EV-Associated MiRNA-128”. Viruses 15 (3).

Background: This is Manuscript 1 of a two-part Manuscript of the same series. Here, we present findings from our first set of studies on the abundance and compartmentalization of blood plasma extracellular microRNAs (exmiRNAs) into extracellular particles, including blood plasma extracellular vesicles (EVs) and extracellular condensates (ECs) in the setting of untreated HIV/SIV infection. The goals of the study presented in this Manuscript 1 are to (i) assess the abundance and compartmentalization of exmiRNAs in EVs versus ECs in the healthy uninfected state, and (ii) evaluate how SIV infection may affect exmiRNA abundance and compartmentalization in these particles. Considerable effort has been devoted to studying the epigenetic control of viral infection, particularly in understanding the role of exmiRNAs as key regulators of viral pathogenesis. MicroRNA (miRNAs) are small ( 20-22 nts) non-coding RNAs that regulate cellular processes through targeted mRNA degradation and/or repression of protein translation. Originally associated with the cellular microenvironment, circulating miRNAs are now known to be present in various extracellular environments, including blood serum and plasma. While in circulation, miRNAs are protected from degradation by ribonucleases through their association with lipid and protein carriers, such as lipoproteins and other extracellular particles-EVs and ECs. Functionally, miRNAs play important roles in diverse biological processes and diseases (cell proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, stress responses, inflammation, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, aging, neurological diseases, and HIV/SIV pathogenesis). While lipoproteins and EV-associated exmiRNAs have been characterized and linked to various disease processes, the association of exmiRNAs with ECs is yet to be made. Likewise, the effect of SIV infection on the abundance and compartmentalization of exmiRNAs within extracellular particles is unclear. Literature in the EV field has suggested that most circulating miRNAs may not be associated with EVs. However, a systematic analysis of the carriers of exmiRNAs has not been conducted due to the inefficient separation of EVs from other extracellular particles, including ECs. Methods: Paired EVs and ECs were separated from EDTA blood plasma of SIV-uninfected male Indian rhesus macaques (RMs, n = 15). Additionally, paired EVs and ECs were isolated from EDTA blood plasma of combination anti-retroviral therapy (cART) naïve SIV-infected (SIV+, n = 3) RMs at two time points (1- and 5-months post infection, 1 MPI and 5 MPI). Separation of EVs and ECs was achieved with PPLC, a state-of-the-art, innovative technology equipped with gradient agarose bead sizes and a fast fraction collector that allows high-resolution separation and retrieval of preparative quantities of sub-populations of extracellular particles. Global miRNA profiles of the paired EVs and ECs were determined with RealSeq Biosciences (Santa Cruz, CA) custom sequencing platform by conducting small RNA (sRNA)-seq. The sRNA-seq data were analyzed using various bioinformatic tools. Validation of key exmiRNAs was performed using specific TaqMan microRNA stem-loop RT-qPCR assays. Results: We showed that exmiRNAs in blood plasma are not restricted to any type of extracellular particles but are associated with lipid-based carriers-EVs and non-lipid-based carriers-ECs, with a significant ( 30%) proportion of the exmiRNAs being associated with ECs. In the blood plasma of uninfected RMs, a total of 315 miRNAs were associated with EVs, while 410 miRNAs were associated with ECs. A comparison of detectable miRNAs within paired EVs and ECs revealed 19 and 114 common miRNAs, respectively, detected in all 15 RMs. Let-7a-5p, Let-7c-5p, miR-26a-5p, miR-191-5p, and let-7f-5p were among the top 5 detectable miRNAs associated with EVs in that order. In ECs, miR-16-5p, miR-451, miR-191-5p, miR-27a-3p, and miR-27b-3p, in that order, were the top detectable miRNAs in ECs. miRNA-target enrichment analysis of the top 10 detected common EV and EC miRNAs identified MYC and TNPO1 as top target genes, respectively. Functional enrichment analysis of top EV- and EC-associated miRNAs identified common and distinct gene-network signatures associated with various biological and disease processes. Top EV-associated miRNAs were implicated in cytokine-cytokine receptor interactions, Th17 cell differentiation, IL-17 signaling, inflammatory bowel disease, and glioma. On the other hand, top EC-associated miRNAs were implicated in lipid and atherosclerosis, Th1 and Th2 cell differentiation, Th17 cell differentiation, and glioma. Interestingly, infection of RMs with SIV revealed that the brain-enriched miR-128-3p was longitudinally and significantly downregulated in EVs, but not ECs. This SIV-mediated decrease in miR-128-3p counts was validated by specific TaqMan microRNA stem-loop RT-qPCR assay. Remarkably, the observed SIV-mediated decrease in miR-128-3p levels in EVs from RMs agrees with publicly available EV miRNAome data by Kaddour et al., 2021, which showed that miR-128-3p levels were significantly lower in semen-derived EVs from HIV-infected men who used or did not use cocaine compared to HIV-uninfected individuals. These findings confirmed our previously reported finding and suggested that miR-128 may be a target of HIV/SIV. Conclusions: In the present study, we used sRNA sequencing to provide a holistic understanding of the repertoire of circulating exmiRNAs and their association with extracellular particles, such as EVs and ECs. Our data also showed that SIV infection altered the profile of the miRNAome of EVs and revealed that miR-128-3p may be a potential target of HIV/SIV. The significant decrease in miR-128-3p in HIV-infected humans and in SIV-infected RMs may indicate disease progression. Our study has important implications for the development of biomarker approaches for various types of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, organ injury, and HIV based on the capture and analysis of circulating exmiRNAs.

McDew-White, Marina, Eunhee Lee, Lakmini S Premadasa, Xavier Alvarez, Chioma M Okeoma, and Mahesh Mohan. (2023) 2023. “Cannabinoids Modulate the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis in HIV SIV Infection by Reducing Neuroinflammation and Dysbiosis While Concurrently Elevating Endocannabinoid and Indole-3-Propionate Levels”. Journal of Neuroinflammation 20 (1): 62.

BACKGROUND: Although the advent of combination anti-retroviral therapy (cART) has transformed HIV into a manageable chronic disease, an estimated 30-50% of people living with HIV (PLWH) exhibit cognitive and motor deficits collectively known as HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). A key driver of HAND neuropathology is chronic neuroinflammation, where proinflammatory mediators produced by activated microglia and macrophages are thought to inflict neuronal injury and loss. Moreover, the dysregulation of the microbiota-gut-brain axis (MGBA) in PLWH, consequent to gastrointestinal dysfunction and dysbiosis, can lead to neuroinflammation and persistent cognitive impairment, which underscores the need for new interventions.

METHODS: We performed RNA-seq and microRNA profiling in basal ganglia (BG), metabolomics (plasma) and shotgun metagenomic sequencing (colon contents) in uninfected and SIV-infected rhesus macaques (RMs) administered vehicle (VEH/SIV) or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (THC/SIV).

RESULTS: Long-term, low-dose THC reduced neuroinflammation and dysbiosis and significantly increased plasma endocannabinoid, endocannabinoid-like, glycerophospholipid and indole-3-propionate levels in chronically SIV-infected RMs. Chronic THC potently blocked the upregulation of genes associated with type-I interferon responses (NLRC5, CCL2, CXCL10, IRF1, IRF7, STAT2, BST2), excitotoxicity (SLC7A11), and enhanced protein expression of WFS1 (endoplasmic reticulum stress) and CRYM (oxidative stress) in BG. Additionally, THC successfully countered miR-142-3p-mediated suppression of WFS1 protein expression via a cannabinoid receptor-1-mediated mechanism in HCN2 neuronal cells. Most importantly, THC significantly increased the relative abundance of Firmicutes and Clostridia including indole-3-propionate (C. botulinum, C. paraputrificum, and C. cadaveris) and butyrate (C. butyricum, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Butyricicoccus pullicaecorum) producers in colonic contents.

CONCLUSION: This study demonstrates the potential of long-term, low-dose THC to positively modulate the MGBA by reducing neuroinflammation, enhancing endocannabinoid levels and promoting the growth of gut bacterial species that produce neuroprotective metabolites, like indole-3-propionate. The findings from this study may benefit not only PLWH on cART, but also those with no access to cART and more importantly, those who fail to suppress the virus under cART.


Zagorski, Karen, Kabita Pandey, Rajesh Rajaiah, Omalla Olwenyi, Aditya Bade, Arpan Acharya, Morgan Johnston, Shaun Filliaux, Yuri Lyubchenko, and Siddappa Byrareddy. (2022) 2022. “Peptide Nanoarray Scaffold Vaccine for SARS-COV-2 and Its Variants of Concerns”. Research Square.

The current vaccine development strategies for the COVID-19 pandemic utilize whole inactive or attenuated viruses, virus-like particles, recombinant proteins, and antigen-coding DNA and mRNA with various delivery strategies. While highly effective, these vaccine development strategies are time-consuming and often do not provide reliable protection for immunocompromised individuals, young children, and pregnant women. Here, we propose a novel modular vaccine platform to address these shortcomings using chemically synthesized peptides and identified based on the validated bioinformatic data about the target. The vaccine is based on the rational design of an immunogen containing two defined B-cell epitopes from the spike protein of SARS-Co-V2 and a universal T-helper epitope PADRE assembled on the DNA scaffold. The results demonstrate that this assembly is immunogenic and generates neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 wild type and its variants of concerns (VOC). This newly designed peptide nanoarray scaffold vaccine is useful in controlling virus transmission in immunocompromised individuals, as well as individuals who are prone to vaccine-induced adverse reactions. Given that the immunogen is modular, epitopes or immunomodulatory ligands can be easily introduced in order to tailor the vaccine to the recipient. This also allows the already developed vaccine to be modified rapidly according to the identified mutations of the virus.

Chen, Min, Min Li, Marietta M Budai, Andrew P Rice, Jason T Kimata, Mahesh Mohan, and Jin Wang. (2022) 2022. “Clearance of HIV-1 or SIV Reservoirs by Promotion of Apoptosis and Inhibition of Autophagy: Targeting Intracellular Molecules in Cure-Directed Strategies”. Journal of Leukocyte Biology 112 (5): 1245-59.