The Effect of Hormonal Contraception on Cervicovaginal Mucosal End Points Associated with HIV Acquisition

AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2019 Sep;35(9):853-864. doi: 10.1089/AID.2018.0298. Epub 2019 May 14.


Reproductive age women may choose to concurrently use topical antiretrovirals and hormonal contraceptives (HCs) to simultaneously prevent HIV-1 infection and unintended/mistimed pregnancy. There are conflicting data on the effect of HCs on mucosal susceptibility to HIV-1. The objective of this study was to evaluate cervicovaginal (CV) mucosal data from healthy women before and after initiation of either oral contraceptive pills (OCPs) or depot medroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA) injection. CONRAD A10-114 was a prospective, open-label, parallel cohort study. We enrolled 74 women and 62 completed the visits (32 and 30 who selected OCPs and DMPA, respectively). Participants provided CV lavage, vaginal biopsies, and CV swabs at baseline in the luteal phase and then ∼6 weeks after initiating HCs. After contraceptive initiation, there were significant increases in vaginal immune cell density among both DMPA and OCP users. Changes for OCP users were concentrated in the subepithelial lamina propria, whereas for DMPA users, they were distributed throughout the vaginal tissue, including the epithelium (CD45+, CD3+, CD4+, and CD1a+). Contraceptive use altered concentrations of soluble CV inflammatory and immune mediators, with significant reductions in some proinflammatory cytokines and secretory leukoprotease inhibitor. Compared with baseline, p24 antigen production after ex vivo HIV-1 infection of vaginal biopsies doubled after DMPA use, but all p-values were >.05. HIV-1 replication was significantly higher in DMPA-exposed tissues compared with those from the OCP group at the end of the tissue culture (p = .01). Although not statistically significant, median in vitro inhibition of HIV-1 by CV fluid (innate antiviral activity), was reduced by ∼50% with HCs (p > .21). Exposure to exogenous contraceptive hormones significantly increased vaginal immune cells and reduced CV proinflammatory cytokines and antimicrobial peptides. DMPA users showed higher susceptibility to HIV-1 ex vivo infection.

Keywords: HIV; contraceptives; inflammation; microbicides; mucosal safety.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cervix Uteri / drug effects
  • Cervix Uteri / immunology
  • Cervix Uteri / virology
  • Contraceptives, Oral / administration & dosage*
  • Cytokines / immunology
  • Disease Susceptibility / immunology
  • Disease Susceptibility / virology*
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / etiology*
  • HIV Infections / immunology
  • HIV-1 / drug effects
  • Hormonal Contraception*
  • Humans
  • Injections
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate / administration & dosage*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucous Membrane / drug effects
  • Mucous Membrane / immunology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Vagina / drug effects
  • Vagina / immunology
  • Vagina / virology
  • Young Adult


  • Contraceptives, Oral
  • Cytokines
  • Medroxyprogesterone Acetate