Topical microbicides are being sought to prevent sexually transmitted diseases by inactivating pathogens while preserving or enhancing the natural mucosal barrier. Serious public health concerns were raised by a recent phase 3 clinical trial that showed that nonoxynol-9 (N-9), a leading microbicide candidate widely used as an over-the-counter spermicide, may actually increase human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) transmission. The present study links N-9-induced vaginal inflammation to increased risk of HIV-1 infection. Analysis of molecular and cellular components in cervicovaginal secretions, as well as results from in vitro activation of cervicovaginal epithelial cells and U1/HIV promonocytic cells, showed that multiple N-9 use can promote HIV-1 transmission through interleukin-1-mediated NF-kappaB activation, which leads to chemokine-induced recruitment of HIV-1 host cells and increased HIV-1 replication in infected cells. Furthermore, this study identifies in vitro and in vivo model systems for monitoring undesirable proinflammatory effects of microbicides and other vaginal products.