Some Sections of Female Reproductive Tract More Susceptible to HIV Infection

Specific type of lymphocyte found to impact HIV infection.

Specific type of lymphocyte found to impact HIV infection.

Certain sections of the female reproductive tract are more susceptible to HIV infection, a recent study indicates.

Published in the journal Mucosal Immunology, the study evaluated the phenotype and susceptibility of CD4+ Th17 cells in the female reproductive tract to HIV infection, specifically the ectocervix compared with the endometrium.

"This variance is likely due to the increased presence of a specific type of lymphocyte, named CD4+ Th17 cells, which we found were irregularly distributed in FRT tissues and more likely to be infected by HIV compared to other CD4+ T cells," first author Marta Rodriguez-Garcia, MD, PhD, said in a press release. "We also found that the FRT from postmenopausal women contains more of these very susceptible cells compared to premenopausal women, suggesting postmenopausal women could be at higher risk to acquire HIV."

Unlike prior studies that utilized blood cells to evaluate HIV infection, the current study developed a protocol that isolated and characterized female reproductive tract cells, which are the first cells that encounter HIV during sexual transmission of the virus.

"Isolation of the cells from tissue allowed us to characterize the cells in ways that cannot be done using whole tissue," study lead Charles Wira, PhD, said in a press release. "Our findings in identifying these cells and their distribution within the tract, as well as the differences between pre- and post-menopausal women, have application beyond the HIV field, since these cells are important for protection against fungal and bacterial infection, gynecological cancers, and are also involved in autoimmune disorders, and pregnancy."

The researchers next plan to determine the effect of hormones in cellular protection against infection.

“We now want to understand how sex hormones play a role in regulating HIV-target cells in the female reproductive tract and the mechanisms through which female reproductive tract cells protect against infection,” Dr. Rodriguez-Garcia said.