Epithelial barrier dysfunction during human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection has largely been attributed to the rapid and severe depletion of CD4+ T cells in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Although it is known that changes in mucosal gene expression contribute to intestinal enteropathy, the role of small noncoding RNAs, specifically microRNA (miRNA), has not been investigated. Using the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV)-infected nonhuman primate model of HIV pathogenesis, we investigated the effect of viral infection on miRNA expression in intestinal mucosa. SIV infection led to a striking decrease in the expression of mucosal miRNA compared to that in uninfected controls. This decrease coincided with an increase in 5'-3'-exoribonuclease 2 protein and alterations in DICER1 and Argonaute 2 expression. Targets of depleted miRNA belonged to molecular pathways involved in epithelial proliferation, differentiation, and immune response. Decreased expression of several miRNA involved in maintaining epithelial homeostasis in the gut was localized to the proliferative crypt region of the intestinal epithelium. Our findings suggest that SIV-induced decreased expression of miRNA involved in epithelial homeostasis, disrupted expression of miRNA biogenesis machinery, and increased expression of XRN2 are involved in the development of epithelial barrier dysfunction and gastroenteropathy.
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