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J Exp Med. 2009 Nov 23;206(12):2717-33. doi: 10.1084/jem.20091579. Epub 2009 Oct 26.

Spermatozoa capture HIV-1 through heparan sulfate and efficiently transmit the virus to dendritic cells.

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  • 1Centro Nacional de Referencia para SIDA, Facultad de Medicina, Universidad de Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires C1121ABG, Argentina.


Semen is the main vector for HIV-1 dissemination worldwide. It contains three major sources of infectious virus: free virions, infected leukocytes, and spermatozoa-associated virions. We focused on the interaction of HIV-1 with human spermatozoa and dendritic cells (DCs). We report that heparan sulfate is expressed in spermatozoa and plays an important role in the capture of HIV-1. Spermatozoa-attached virus is efficiently transmitted to DCs, macrophages, and T cells. Interaction of spermatozoa with DCs not only leads to the transmission of HIV-1 and the internalization of the spermatozoa but also results in the phenotypic maturation of DCs and the production of IL-10 but not IL-12p70. At low values of extracellular pH (approximately 6.5 pH units), similar to those found in the vaginal mucosa after sexual intercourse, the binding of HIV-1 to the spermatozoa and the consequent transmission of HIV-1 to DCs were strongly enhanced. Our observations support the notion that far from being a passive carrier, spermatozoa acting in concert with DCs might affect the early course of sexual transmission of HIV-1 infection.

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