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      The genital tract and rectal microbiomes: their role in HIV susceptibility and prevention in women

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          Young women in sub‐Saharan Africa are disproportionately affected by HIV, accounting for 25% of all new infections in 2017. Several behavioural and biological factors are known to impact a young woman's vulnerability for acquiring HIV. One key, but lesser understood, biological factor impacting vulnerability is the vaginal microbiome. This review describes the vaginal microbiome and examines its alterations, its influence on HIV acquisition as well as the efficacy of HIV prevention technologies, the role of the rectal microbiome in HIV acquisition, advances in technologies to study the microbiome and some future research directions.


          Although the composition of each woman's vaginal microbiome is unique, a microbiome dominated by Lactobacillus species is generally associated with a “healthy” vagina. Disturbances in the vaginal microbiota, characterized by a shift from a low‐diversity, Lactobacillus‐dominant state to a high‐diversity non‐ Lactobacillus‐dominant state, have been shown to be associated with a range of adverse reproductive health outcomes, including increasing the risk of genital inflammation and HIV acquisition. Gardnerella vaginalis and Prevotella bivia have been shown to contribute to both HIV risk and genital inflammation. In addition to impacting HIV risk, the composition of the vaginal microbiome affects the vaginal concentrations of some antiretroviral drugs, particularly those administered intravaginally, and thereby their efficacy as pre‐exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV prevention. Although the role of rectal microbiota in HIV acquisition in women is less well understood, the composition of this compartment's microbiome, particularly the presence of species of bacteria from the Prevotellaceae family likely contribute to HIV acquisition. Advances in technologies have facilitated the study of the genital microbiome's structure and function. While next‐generation sequencing advanced knowledge of the diversity and complexity of the vaginal microbiome, the emerging field of metaproteomics, which provides important information on vaginal bacterial community structure, diversity and function, is further shedding light on functionality of the vaginal microbiome and its relationship with bacterial vaginosis (BV), as well as antiretroviral PrEP efficacy.


          A better understanding of the composition, structure and function of the microbiome is needed to identify opportunities to alter the vaginal microbiome and prevent BV and reduce the risk of HIV acquisition.

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          Most cited references 147

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          Nonspecific vaginitis. Diagnostic criteria and microbial and epidemiologic associations.

          Numerous previous studies of nonspecific vaginitis have yielded contradictory results regarding its cause and clinical manifestations, due to a lack of uniform case definition and laboratory methods. We studied 397 consecutive unselected female university students and applied sets of well defined criteria to distinguish nonspecific vaginitis from other forms of vaginitis and from normal findings. Using such criteria, we diagnosed nonspecific vaginitis in up to 25 percent of our study population; asymptomatic disease was recognized in more than 50 percent of those with nonspecific vaginitis. A clinical diagnosis of nonspecific vaginitis, based on simple office procedures, was correlated with both the presence and the concentration of Gardnerella vaginalis (Hemophilus vaginalis) in vaginal discharge, and with characteristic biochemical findings in vaginal discharge. Nonspecific vaginitis was also correlated with a history of sexual activity, a history of previous trichomoniasis, current use of nonbarrier contraceptive methods, and, particularly, use of an intrauterine device. G. vaginalis was isolated from 51.3 percent of the total population using a highly selective medium that detected the organism in lower concentration in vaginal discharge than did previously used media. Practical diagnostic criteria for standard clinical use are proposed. Application of such criteria should assist in clinical management of nonspecific vaginitis and in further study of the microbiologic and biochemical correlates and the pathogenesis of this mild but quite prevalent disease.
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            Glycerol monolaurate prevents mucosal SIV transmission

            While there has been great progress in treating HIV-1 infection1, preventing transmission has thus far proven an elusive goal. Indeed, recent trials of a candidate vaccine and microbicide have been disappointing, both for want of efficacy and concerns about increased rates of transmission2–4. Nonetheless, studies of vaginal transmission in the SIV-rhesus macaque model point to opportunities in the earliest stages of infection where a vaccine or microbicide might be protective, by limiting the expansion of infected founder populations at the portal of entry5, 6. Here we show in this SIV-macaque model, that an outside-in endocervical mucosal signalling system, involving MIP-3α, plasmacytoid dendritic cells and CCR5+cell-attracting chemokines produced by these cells, in combination with the innate immune and inflammatory responses to infection in both cervix and vagina, recruit CD4+T cells to fuel this obligate expansion. We then show that glycerol monolaurate, a widely used antimicrobial compound 7 with inhibitory activity against production of MIP-3α and other proinflammatory cytokines8, can inhibit mucosal signalling and the innate and inflammatory response to HIV-1 and SIV in vitro, and in vivo can protect rhesus macaques from acute infection despite repeated intra-vaginal exposure to high doses of SIV. This novel approach, plausibly linked to interfering with innate host responses that recruit the target cells necessary to establish systemic infection, opens a promising new avenue for development of effective interventions to block HIV-1 mucosal transmission.
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              Vaginal lactobacilli, microbial flora, and risk of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 and sexually transmitted disease acquisition.

              A prospective cohort study was conducted to examine the relationship between vaginal colonization with lactobacilli, bacterial vaginosis (BV), and acquisition of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) and sexually transmitted diseases in a population of sex workers in Mombasa, Kenya. In total, 657 HIV-1-seronegative women were enrolled and followed at monthly intervals. At baseline, only 26% of women were colonized with Lactobacillus species. During follow-up, absence of vaginal lactobacilli on culture was associated with an increased risk of acquiring HIV-1 infection (hazard ratio [HR], 2.0; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.2-3.5) and gonorrhea (HR, 1.7; 95% CI, 1.1-2.6), after controlling for other identified risk factors in separate multivariate models. Presence of abnormal vaginal flora on Gram's stain was associated with increased risk of both HIV-1 acquisition (HR, 1.9; 95% CI, 1.1-3.1) and Trichomonas infection (HR, 1.8; 95% CI, 1.3-2.4). Treatment of BV and promotion of vaginal colonization with lactobacilli should be evaluated as potential interventions to reduce a woman's risk of acquiring HIV-1, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis.

                Author and article information

                J Int AIDS Soc
                J Int AIDS Soc
                Journal of the International AIDS Society
                John Wiley and Sons Inc. (Hoboken )
                29 May 2019
                May 2019
                : 22
                : 5 ( doiID: 10.1002/jia2.2019.22.issue-5 )
                [ 1 ] Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) University of KwaZulu‐Natal Durban South Africa
                [ 2 ] Department of Epidemiology Columbia University New York NY USA
                [ 3 ] National Health Laboratory Service Cape Town South Africa
                [ 4 ] Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine (IDM) University of Cape Town Cape Town South Africa
                [ 5 ] Department of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases University of Manitoba Winnipeg Manitoba Canada
                [ 6 ] Department of Medical Microbiology University of Nairobi Nairobi Kenya
                [ 7 ] Department of Pathology and Cell Biology Columbia University New York NY USA
                Author notes
                [* ] Corresponding author: Salim S Abdool Karim, CAPRISA, 2nd Floor Doris Duke Medical Research Institute, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu‐Natal, Private Bag X7, Congella 4013, Durban, South Africa. Tel: +2731 260 4550. ( salim.abdoolkarim@ 123456caprisa.org )
                © 2019 The Authors. Journal of the International AIDS Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of the International AIDS Society.

                This is an open access article under the terms of the http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Page count
                Figures: 0, Tables: 0, Pages: 12, Words: 13350
                Custom metadata
                May 2019
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