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Genital inflammation, immune activation and risk of sexual HIV acquisition

Passmore, Jo-Ann S.; Jaspan, Heather B.; Masson, Lindi

Current Opinion in HIV and AIDS: March 2016 - Volume 11 - Issue 2 - p 156–162
doi: 10.1097/COH.0000000000000232
IMMUNE ACTIVATION: Edited by Irini Sereti and Marcus Altfeld

Purpose of review Women who have genital inflammation are at increased risk of sexual HIV infection. The purpose of this review is to evaluate the mechanisms for this relationship, causes of genital inflammation, and strategies to manage this condition.

Recent findings We have recently shown in a cohort of South African women that HIV seroconversion was associated with persistently raised genital inflammatory cytokines (including MIP-1α, MIP-1β, and IP-10). Elevated inflammatory cytokine concentrations may facilitate HIV infection by recruiting and activating HIV target cells and disrupting the mucosal epithelial barrier. Bacterial vaginosis and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which are predominantly asymptomatic in women, cause lower genital tract inflammation and increased HIV acquisition risk. In Africa, where syndromic management of STIs and bacterial vaginosis is standard-of-care, the substantial burden of asymptomatic infections has likely contributed to high-HIV incidence rates.

Summary A genital inflammatory profile contributes to the high risk of HIV acquisition in African women. STIs and bacterial vaginosis are poorly managed in Africa and other developing nations and as such remain major drivers of persistent genital inflammation and HIV acquisition among these women.

aInstitute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town Medical School, Cape Town

bNRF-DST Centre of Excellence in HIV Prevention, Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research, Durban, South Africa

cSeattle Children's Hospital, Seattle, Washington, USA

dNational Health Laboratory Service, Cape Town, South Africa

Correspondence to Jo-Ann S. Passmore, Genital Mucosal STI/HIV (GEMS) Laboratory, Division of Medical Virology, Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, NRF-DST Centre of Excellence in HIV Prevention at CAPRISA, University of Cape Town, Anzio Road, Observatory, 7925 Cape Town, South Africa. Tel: +27 21 6507963; fax: +27 21 4066681; e-mail:

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