The mucosal barrier plays an integral function in human health as it is the primary defense against pathogens, and provides a critical transition between the external environment and the human internal body. In the context of HIV infection, the most relevant mucosal surfaces include those of the gastrointestinal (GI) and genital tract compartments. Several components help maintain the effectiveness of this mucosal surface, including the physical anatomy of the barrier, cellular immunity, soluble factors, and interactions between the epithelial barrier and the local microenvironment, including mucus and host microbiota. Any defects in barrier integrity or function can rapidly lead to an increase in acquisition risk, or with established infection may result in increased pathogenesis, morbidities, or mortality. Indeed, a key feature to all aspects of HIV infection from transmission to pathogenesis is disruption and/or dysfunction of mucosal barriers. Herein, we will detail the host-pathogen relationship of HIV and mucosal barriers in both of these scenarios.
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