ART Inhibits HIV from Reproducing in Female Reproductive Tract

Antiretroviral therapy taken early and frequently can limit the spread of HIV.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) was found to help reduce HIV from migrating to the female reproductive tract during a recent study.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases observed a 93% protection rate against secondary heterosexual transmission when patients received ART early.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, used humanized mouse models, which showed that if ART is taken early and regularly, transmission rapidly declines.

"Surprisingly, it does not matter how a woman is exposed to HIV -- vaginally, rectally, etc. -- the virus goes very quickly to the female reproductive tract," said co-study author J. Victor Garcia, PhD. "Your body's CD4 T cells, which are the cells HIV infects, also migrate to the female reproductive tract shortly after exposure. It is like putting more kindling on a smoldering fire."

The CD8 T cells, which protect your body by fighting infection, are slow in getting to the female reproductive tract. This delay gives HIV the opportunity to establish itself in the reproductive tract, as well as in cervicovaginal secretions.

Researchers believe that this information can be useful in creating potential HIV vaccinations.

"Once ART was introduced into our models, the number of infected cells in the female reproductive tract and cervicovaginal secretions vastly decreased," said study co-author Angela Wahl, PhD. "However, even on therapy, there is still residual virus in the female reproductive tract, just not enough to transmit infection. And these remaining infected cells are persistently making HIV RNA. This has implications for cure research and indicates that the female reproductive tract could represent a potential reservoir for HIV during therapy."