Human immunodeficiency virus-1 acquisition in genital mucosa: Langerhans cells as key-players

J Intern Med. 2009 Jan;265(1):18-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2796.2008.02046.x.


Human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) infection occurs primarily via genital mucosal tissues and the cellular mechanisms that affect HIV-1 acquisition are largely unclear. Langerhans cells (LCs) are professional antigen presenting cells lining the mucosal stratified squamous epithelium. It is becoming evident that LCs have different functions in HIV-1 transmission. HIV-1 can infect mucosal LCs, which subsequently efficiently transmit the virus to T cells in the lymphoid tissues. However, this seems to be dependent on the activation status of LCs, as immature LCs prevent HIV-1 infection by clearing invading HIV-1 though the C-type lectin langerin. Recent data demonstrate that co-infections with sexual transmitted infection (STIs) negate the protective function of LCs by different mechanisms, thereby allowing LC infection with HIV-1 and subsequently HIV-1 transmission. Here, we will discuss the function of LCs under normal circumstances and in the presence of STIs or inflammation. A better understanding of LCs function during homeostasis and inflammation is necessary for the development of new strategies to prevent HIV-1 infection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antigen Presentation
  • Dendritic Cells / physiology
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • HIV-1 / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Langerhans Cells / physiology*
  • Male
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / immunology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / virology