Role of semen in modulating the female genital tract microenvironment--implications for HIV transmission

Am J Reprod Immunol. 2014 Jun;71(6):564-74. doi: 10.1111/aji.12231. Epub 2014 Apr 7.


Semen deposition results in modulated immunity and an inflammatory response of the genital mucosa, which promotes conditions facilitating conception and pregnancy. These semen-induced alterations in the female reproductive tract can also have implications for the sexual transmission of viral infections such as HIV-1. Semen is not only a vector for HIV-1 but also a carrier for pro- and antiviral factors. Semen induces significant mucosal changes upregulating gene, and transcription factors leading to recruitment and activation of HIV target cells, stimulation of HIV replication and potentiation of Toll-like receptor responses. Although more research is needed to clearly elucidate the resulting collective effects of all these factors, semen modulation of the cervicovaginal microenvironment and immune system appears to lead, through multiple mechanisms, to mucosal changes facilitating viral entry and replication, likely resulting in enhanced susceptibility to acquire HIV-1 infection.

Keywords: HIV; semen; vaginal inflammation; vaginal innate immunity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / virology
  • Cellular Microenvironment / immunology
  • Cervix Uteri / immunology*
  • Cervix Uteri / virology
  • Chemokine CCL20 / biosynthesis
  • Coitus
  • Disease Susceptibility / immunology*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Interleukin-7 / immunology
  • Male
  • Mucous Membrane / immunology*
  • Mucous Membrane / virology
  • NF-kappa B / biosynthesis
  • Prostaglandins E / immunology
  • Receptors, CCR6
  • Semen / immunology*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / immunology
  • Vagina / immunology*
  • Vagina / virology


  • CCL20 protein, human
  • CCR6 protein, human
  • Chemokine CCL20
  • IL7 protein, human
  • Interleukin-7
  • NF-kappa B
  • Prostaglandins E
  • Receptors, CCR6
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta