HIV Infection and Neurocognitive Disorders in the Context of Chronic Drug Abuse: Evidence for Divergent Findings Dependent upon Prior Drug History

Jessica M. Illenberger, Steven B. Harrod, Charles F. Mactutus, Kristen A. McLaurin, Asha Kallianpur, Rosemarie M. Booze

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The fronto-striatal circuitry, involving the nucleus accumbens, ventral tegmental area, and prefrontal cortex, mediates goal-directed behavior and is targeted by both drugs of abuse and HIV-1 infection. Acutely, both drugs and HIV-1 provoke increased dopamine activity within the circuit. However, chronic exposure to drugs or HIV-1 leads to dysregulation of the dopamine system as a result of fronto-striatal adaptations to oppose the effects of repeated instances of transiently increased dopamine. Specifically, chronic drug use leads to reduced dopaminergic tone, upregulation of dopamine transporters, and altered circuit connectivity, sending users into an allosteric state in which goal-directed behaviors are dysregulated (i.e., addiction). Similarly, chronic exposure to HIV-1, even with combination antiretroviral therapy (cART), dysregulates dopamine and dopamine transporter function and alters connectivity of the fronto-striatal circuit, contributing to apathy and clinical symptoms of HIV-1 associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). Thus, in a drug user also exposed to HIV-1, dysregulation of the fronto-striatal dopamine circuit advances at an exacerbated rate and appears to be driven by mechanisms unique from those seen with chronic drug use or HIV-1 exposure alone. We posit that the effects of drug use and HIV-1 infection on microglia interact to drive the progression of motivational dysfunction at an accelerated rate. The current review will therefore explore how the fronto-striatal circuit adapts to drug use (using cocaine as an example), HIV-1 infection, and both together; emphasizing proper methods and providing future directions to develop treatments for pathologies disrupting goal-directed behaviors and improve clinical outcomes for affected patients. [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)715-728
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of NeuroImmune Pharmacology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • Addiction
  • Apathy
  • Dopamine
  • HIV-1
  • HIV-1 associated neurocognitive disorders
  • Microglia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Pharmacology


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