Human genital epithelial cells capture cell-free human immunodeficiency virus type 1 and transmit the virus to CD4+ Cells: implications for mechanisms of sexual transmission

J Infect Dis. 2003 Nov 15;188(10):1473-82. doi: 10.1086/379248. Epub 2003 Oct 31.


Sexual transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) accounts for the majority of new infections worldwide. However, the mechanism of viral transmission across the mucosal barrier is poorly understood. By use of an ectocervical epithelium-derived cell line, we found that the cells are capable of sequestering large amounts of HIV particles but are refractory to cell-free viral infection. The sequestered virus particles remained infectious for >/=6 days and resisted treatment with trypsin. Upon coculture with CD4(+)-susceptible cells, epithelial cells can effectively transmit the virus to these cells, which can result in robust infection of the target cells. Inhibitory studies have shown that heparan sulfate moiety of cell-surface proteoglycans is involved in the viral attachment to these CD4-negative epithelial cells. Genital epithelial cells may play active roles in sequestering, protecting, and transferring virus during sexual transmission of HIV.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / virology*
  • Cervix Uteri / immunology
  • Cervix Uteri / virology*
  • Coculture Techniques
  • DNA, Viral / chemistry
  • DNA, Viral / genetics
  • Epithelial Cells / virology
  • Female
  • HIV Core Protein p24 / immunology
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • HIV-1*
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes, Mononuclear / immunology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Viral / immunology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Viral / transmission
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Viral / virology*
  • Viral Matrix Proteins / immunology
  • Virus Replication / immunology
  • Zidovudine / pharmacology


  • DNA, Viral
  • HIV Core Protein p24
  • Viral Matrix Proteins
  • Zidovudine