Astrocytes provide metabolic support for neurons and modulate their functions by releasing a plethora of neuroactive molecules diffusing to neighboring cells. Here we report that astrocytes also play a role in cortical neurons' vulnerability to Herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1) infection through the release of extracellular ATP. We found that the interaction of HSV-1 with heparan sulfate proteoglycans expressed on the plasma membrane of astrocytes triggered phospholipase C-mediated IP3-dependent intracellular Ca2+ transients causing extracellular release of ATP. ATP binds membrane purinergic P2 receptors (P2Rs) of both neurons and astrocytes causing an increase in intracellular Ca2+ concentration that activates the Glycogen Synthase Kinase (GSK)-3β, whose action is necessary for HSV-1 entry/replication in these cells. Indeed, in co-cultures of neurons and astrocytes HSV-1-infected neurons were only found in proximity of infected astrocytes releasing ATP, whereas in the presence of fluorocitrate, an inhibitor of astrocyte metabolism, switching-off the HSV-1-induced ATP release, very few neurons were infected. The addition of exogenous ATP, mimicking that released by astrocytes after HSV-1 challenge, restored the ability of HSV-1 to infect neurons co-cultured with metabolically-inhibited astrocytes. The ATP-activated, P2R-mediated, and GSK-3-dependent molecular pathway underlying HSV-1 infection is likely shared by neurons and astrocytes, given that the blockade of either P2Rs or GSK-3 activation inhibited infection of both cell types. These results add a new layer of information to our understanding of the critical role played by astrocytes in regulating neuronal functions and their response to noxious stimuli including microbial agents via Ca2+-dependent release of neuroactive molecules.
- herpes simplex virus