Hyaluronic acid is a negative regulator of mucosal fibroblast-mediated enhancement of HIV infection

Mucosal Immunol. 2021 Sep;14(5):1203-1213. doi: 10.1038/s41385-021-00409-3. Epub 2021 May 11.


The majority of HIV infections are established through the genital or rectal mucosa. Fibroblasts are abundant in these tissues, and although not susceptible to infection, can potently enhance HIV infection of CD4+ T cells. Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a major component of the extracellular matrix of fibroblasts, and its levels are influenced by the inflammatory state of the tissue. Since inflammation is known to facilitate HIV sexual transmission, we investigated the role of HA in genital mucosal fibroblast-mediated enhancement of HIV infection. Depletion of HA by CRISPR-Cas9 in primary foreskin fibroblasts augmented the ability of the fibroblasts to increase HIV infection of CD4+ T cells. This amplified enhancement required direct contact between the fibroblasts and CD4+ T cells, and could be attributed to both increased rates of trans-infection and the increased ability of HA-deficient fibroblasts to push CD4+ T cells into a state of higher permissivity to infection. This HIV-permissive state was characterized by differential expression of genes associated with regulation of cell metabolism and death. Our results suggest that conditions resulting in diminished cell-surface HA on fibroblasts, such as genital inflammation, can promote HIV transmission by conditioning CD4+ T cells toward a state more vulnerable to infection by HIV.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / virology
  • Disease Susceptibility / immunology
  • Extracellular Matrix / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • HIV Infections / immunology*
  • HIV Infections / metabolism*
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • HIV Infections / virology*
  • HIV-1
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / genetics
  • Host-Pathogen Interactions / immunology
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronan Synthases / genetics
  • Hyaluronic Acid / metabolism*
  • Hyaluronic Acid / pharmacology
  • Mucous Membrane / immunology*
  • Mucous Membrane / metabolism*
  • Mucous Membrane / virology


  • Biomarkers
  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • HAS2 protein, human
  • Hyaluronan Synthases