Dendritic spine injury induced by the 8-hydroxy metabolite of efavirenz

Luis B. Tovar-y-Romo, Namandjé N. Bumpus, Daniel Pomerantz, Lindsay B. Avery, Ned Sacktor, Justin C. McArthur, Norman J. Haughey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Despite combination antiretroviral therapies (cARTs), a significant proportion of HIV-infected patients develop HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). Ongoing viral replication in the central nervous system (CNS) caused by poor brain penetration of cART may contribute to HAND. However, it has also been proposed that the toxic effects of long-term cART may contribute to HAND. A better understanding of the neurotoxic potential of cART is critically needed in light of the use of CNS-penetrating cARTs to contend with the virus reservoir in the brain. The efavirenz (EFV) metabolites 7-hydroxyefavirenz (7-OH-EFV) and 8-hydroxyefavirenz (8-OH-EFV) were synthesized and purified, and their chemical structures were confirmed by mass spectrometry and NMR. The effects of EFV, 7-OH-EFV, and 8-OH-EFV on calcium, dendritic spine morphology, and survival were determined in primary neurons. EFV, 7-OH-EFV, and 8-OH-EFV each induced neuronal damage in a dose-dependent manner. However, 8-OH-EFV was at least an order of magnitude more toxic than EFV or 7-OH-EFV, inducing considerable damage to dendritic spines at a 10 nM concentration. The 8-OH-EFV metabolite evoked calcium flux in neurons, which was mediated primarily by L-type voltage-operated calcium channels (VOCCs). Blockade of L-type VOCCs protected dendritic spines from 8-OH-EFV-induced damage. Concentrations of EFV and 8-OH-EFV in the cerebral spinal fluid of HIV-infected subjects taking EFV were within the range that damaged neurons in culture. These findings demonstrate that the 8-OH metabolite of EFV is a potent neurotoxin and highlight the importance of directly determining the effects of antiretroviral drugs and drug metabolites on neurons and other brain cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)696-703
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology


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