Role of semen in HIV-1 transmission: inhibitor or facilitator?

Am J Reprod Immunol. 2011 Mar;65(3):292-301. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0897.2010.00931.x. Epub 2010 Nov 19.


Sexual transmission of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) accounts for 60-90% of new infections, especially in developing countries. During male-to-female transmission, the virus is typically deposited in the vagina as cell-free and cell-associated virions carried by semen. But semen is more than just a carrier for HIV-1. Evidence from in vitro and in vivo studies supports both inhibitory and enhancing effects. Intrinsic antiviral activity mediated by cationic antimicrobial peptides, cytotoxicity, and blockage of HIV-dendritic cell interactions are seminal plasma properties that inhibit HIV-1 infection. On the contrary, neutralization of vaginal acidic pH, enhanced virus-target cell attachment by seminal amyloid fibrils, opsonization by complement fragments, and electrostatic interactions are factors that facilitate HIV-1 infection. The end result, i.e., inhibition or enhancement of HIV mucosal infection, in vivo, likely depends on the summation of all these biological effects. More research is needed, especially in animal models, to dissect the role of these factors and establish their relevance in HIV-1 transmission.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Dendritic Cells / virology
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • HIV-1 / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Mucosal
  • Male
  • Mucous Membrane / virology
  • Semen / physiology*
  • Semen / virology*
  • Vagina / virology
  • Virus Attachment