Friend or Foe: Innate Sensing of HIV in the Female Reproductive Tract

Curr HIV/AIDS Rep. 2016 Feb;13(1):53-63. doi: 10.1007/s11904-016-0305-0.


The female reproductive tract (FRT) is a major site for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. There currently exists a poor understanding of how the innate immune system is activated upon HIV transmission and how this activation may affect systemic spread of HIV from the FRT. However, multiple mechanisms for how HIV is sensed have been deciphered using model systems with cell lines and peripheral blood-derived cells. The aim of this review is to summarize recent progress in the field of HIV innate immune sensing and place this in the context of the FRT. Because HIV is somewhat unique as an STD that thrives under inflammatory conditions, the response of cells upon sensing HIV gene products can either promote or limit HIV infection depending on the context. Future studies should include investigations into how FRT-derived primary cells sense and respond to HIV to confirm conclusions drawn from non-mucosal cells. Understanding how cells of the FRT participate in and effect innate immune sensing of HIV will provide a clearer picture of what parameters during the early stages of HIV exposure determine transmission success. Such knowledge could pave the way for novel approaches for preventing HIV acquisition in women.

Keywords: FRT; HIV; Inflammation; Innate sensing; Review; Transmission.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Female
  • Genitalia, Female / immunology*
  • Genitalia, Female / virology
  • HIV Infections / immunology*
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • HIV Infections / virology
  • HIV-1 / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate / immunology*
  • Nuclear Proteins / immunology
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism
  • Nucleotidyltransferases / metabolism
  • Phosphoproteins / immunology
  • Toll-Like Receptors / immunology


  • Carrier Proteins
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • PQBP1 protein, human
  • Phosphoproteins
  • Toll-Like Receptors
  • IFI16 protein, human
  • Nucleotidyltransferases
  • cGAS protein, human