Semen inhibits Zika virus infection of cells and tissues from the anogenital region

Nat Commun. 2018 Jun 7;9(1):2207. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-04442-y.


Zika virus (ZIKV) causes severe birth defects and can be transmitted via sexual intercourse. Semen from ZIKV-infected individuals contains high viral loads and may therefore serve as an important vector for virus transmission. Here we analyze the effect of semen on ZIKV infection of cells and tissues derived from the anogenital region. ZIKV replicates in all analyzed cell lines, primary cells, and endometrial or vaginal tissues. However, in the presence of semen, infection by ZIKV and other flaviviruses is potently inhibited. We show that semen prevents ZIKV attachment to target cells, and that an extracellular vesicle preparation from semen is responsible for this anti-ZIKV activity. Our findings suggest that ZIKV transmission is limited by semen. As such, semen appears to serve as a protector against sexual ZIKV transmission, despite the availability of highly susceptible cells in the anogenital tract and high viral loads in this bodily fluid.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Chlorocebus aethiops
  • Extracellular Vesicles / immunology
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts
  • Genitalia / cytology
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Inhibitory Concentration 50
  • Male
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • RNA, Viral / isolation & purification
  • Semen / cytology
  • Semen / immunology*
  • Semen / virology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Viral / transmission*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Viral / virology
  • Vero Cells
  • Viral Load / immunology
  • Virus Attachment*
  • Virus Replication / immunology
  • Zika Virus / isolation & purification
  • Zika Virus / physiology*
  • Zika Virus Infection / immunology
  • Zika Virus Infection / transmission*
  • Zika Virus Infection / virology


  • RNA, Viral