Data_Sheet_1_The Impact of Semen Exposure on the Immune and Microbial Environments of the Female Genital Tract.docx (416.59 kB)
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Data_Sheet_1_The Impact of Semen Exposure on the Immune and Microbial Environments of the Female Genital Tract.docx

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posted on 09.11.2020, 04:09 by Janine Jewanraj, Sinaye Ngcapu, Farzana Osman, Andile Mtshali, Ravesh Singh, Leila E. Mansoor, Salim S. Abdool Karim, Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Jo-Ann S. Passmore, Lenine J. P. Liebenberg

Background: Semen induces an immune response at the female genital tract (FGT) to promote conception. It is also the primary vector for HIV transmission to women during condomless sex. Since genital inflammation and immune activation increase HIV susceptibility in women, semen-induced alterations at the FGT may have implications for HIV risk. Here we investigated the impact of semen exposure, as measured by self-reported condom use and Y-chromosome DNA (YcDNA) detection, on biomarkers of female genital inflammation associated with HIV acquisition.

Methods: Stored genital specimens were collected biannually (mean 5 visits) from 153 HIV-negative women participating in the CAPRISA 008 tenofovir gel open-label extension trial. YcDNA was detected in cervicovaginal lavage (CVL) pellets by RT-PCR and served as a biomarker of semen exposure within 15 days of genital sampling. Protein concentrations were measured in CVL supernatants by multiplexed ELISA, and the frequency of activated CD4+CCR5+ HIV targets was assessed on cytobrush-derived specimens by flow cytometry. Common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and bacterial vaginosis (BV)-associated bacteria were measured by PCR. Multivariable linear mixed models were used to assess the relationship between YcDNA detection and biomarkers of inflammation over time.

Results: YcDNA was detected at least once in 69% (106/153) of women during the trial (median 2, range 1–5 visits), and was associated with marital status, cohabitation, the frequency of vaginal sex, and Nugent Score. YcDNA detection but not self-reported condom use was associated with elevated concentrations of several cytokines: IL-12p70, IL-10, IFN-γ, IL-13, IP-10, MIG, IL-7, PDGF-BB, SCF, VEGF, β-NGF, and biomarkers of epithelial barrier integrity: MMP-2 and TIMP-4; and with reduced concentrations of IL-18 and MIF. YcDNA detection was not associated with alterations in immune cell frequencies but was related to increased detection of P. bivia (OR = 1.970; CI 1.309–2.965; P = 0.001) at the FGT.

Conclusion: YcDNA detection but not self-reported condom use was associated with alterations in cervicovaginal cytokines, BV-associated bacteria, and matrix metalloproteinases, and may have implications for HIV susceptibility in women. This study highlights the discrepancies related to self-reported condom use and the need for routine screening for biomarkers of semen exposure in studies of mucosal immunity to HIV and other STIs.

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