The multifunctional cytokine, transforming growth factor beta (TGF-beta), was identified by immunocytochemistry in the brain tissues of four patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), but not in control brain tissue. The TGF-beta staining was localized to cells of monocytic lineage as well as astrocytes, especially in areas of brain pathology. In addition, the brain tissues from the AIDS patients contained transcripts for human immunodeficiency virus 1 (HIV-1) by in situ hybridization, suggesting a correlation between the presence of HIV-1 in the brain and the expression of TGF-beta. However, the expression of TGF-beta was not limited to HIV-1-positive cells, raising the possibility of alternative mechanisms for the induction of TGF-beta in these AIDS patients' brains. To investigate these mechanisms, purified human monocytes were infected in vitro with HIV-1 and were shown to secrete increased levels of TGF-beta. In addition, HIV-1-infected monocytes released a factor(s) capable of triggering cultured astrocytes that are not infected with HIV-1 to secrete TGF-beta. The release of TGF-beta, which is an extremely potent chemotactic factor, may contribute to the recruitment of HIV-1-infected monocytic cells, enabling viral spread to and within the central nervous system (CNS). Moreover, TGF-beta augments cytokine production, including cytokines known to be neurotoxic. The identification of TGF-beta within the CNS implicates this cytokine in the immunopathologic processes responsible for AIDS-related CNS dysfunction.

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