The High Content of Fructose in Human Semen Competitively Inhibits Broad and Potent Antivirals That Target High-Mannose Glycans

J Virol. 2020 Apr 16;94(9):e01749-19. doi: 10.1128/JVI.01749-19. Print 2020 Apr 16.


Semen is the primary transmission vehicle for various pathogenic viruses. Initial steps of transmission, including cell attachment and entry, likely occur in the presence of semen. However, the unstable nature of human seminal plasma and its toxic effects on cells in culture limit the ability to study in vitro virus infection and inhibition in this medium. We found that whole semen significantly reduces the potency of antibodies and microbicides that target glycans on the envelope glycoproteins (Envs) of HIV-1. The extraordinarily high concentration of the monosaccharide fructose in semen contributes significantly to the effect by competitively inhibiting the binding of ligands to α1,2-linked mannose residues on Env. Infection and inhibition in whole human seminal plasma are accurately mimicked by a stable synthetic simulant of seminal fluid that we formulated. Our findings indicate that, in addition to the protein content of biological secretions, their small-solute composition impacts the potency of antiviral microbicides and mucosal antibodies.IMPORTANCE Biological secretions allow viruses to spread between individuals. Each type of secretion has a unique composition of proteins, salts, and sugars, which can affect the infectivity potential of the virus and inhibition of this process. Here, we describe HIV-1 infection and inhibition in whole human seminal plasma and a synthetic simulant that we formulated. We discovered that the sugar fructose in semen decreases the activity of a broad and potent class of antiviral agents that target mannose sugars on the envelope protein of HIV-1. This effect of semen fructose likely reduces the efficacy of such inhibitors to prevent the sexual transmission of HIV-1. Our findings suggest that the preclinical evaluation of microbicides and vaccine-elicited antibodies will be improved by their in vitro assessment in synthetic formulations that simulate the effects of semen on HIV-1 infection and inhibition.

Keywords: HIV-1; antibodies; high-mannose glycans; human semen; lectins; microbicides; seminal plasma simulant; sexual transmission.