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J Reprod Immunol. 2006 Dec;72(1-2):74-84. Epub 2006 Sep 7.

Distribution of simian immunodeficiency virus target cells in vaginal tissues of normal rhesus macaques: implications for virus transmission.

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Division of Comparative Pathology, Tulane National Primate Research Center, Tulane University School of Medicine, 18703 Three Rivers Road, Covington, LA 70433, USA.


Most new cases of HIV-1 infection occur as the result of vaginal transmission. Identifying the phenotype and distribution of potential viral target cells in the vagina is important for understanding events in viral transmission and for developing effective prevention strategies. For example, compounds that prevent CD4 or CCR5 binding have been demonstrated recently to prevent vaginal transmission in rhesus macaques, but the expression and distribution of CCR5 has not been examined in the macaque vagina. The objective of this study was to examine the distribution and phenotype of cells and molecules in the vagina of rhesus macaques that may be involved in HIV transmission, including CCR5, CD3, CD4, CD8, CD1a, CD28, CD95, CD123 and HLA-DR. Normal juvenile and adult female rhesus macaques were examined by multicolor immunohistochemistry and flow cytometry. Although both CD4 and CCR5 were observed in the lamina propria, essentially no CD4 or CCR5 expression was detected within the squamous or keratinized layers of the vaginal epithelium. CCR5 expression was higher in the vaginal lamina propria of mature macaques compared to 1-3-year-old juveniles. The vast majority of CD4(+)CCR5(+) lymphocytes in the vagina had a central memory (CD95(+)CD28(+)) phenotype. Numerous CCR5-expressing dendritic cells (CD123(+)) or macrophages (CD68(+)) were observed in the lamina propria, but no CCR5, CD4 or DC-SIGN expression was detectable in the epithelium. Thus, the multiple layers of squamous epithelium normally covering the vaginal mucosa may provide an effective barrier against vaginal HIV-1 transmission. Microbicides that block CD4 or CCR5 expression may act within the deeper layers of the vaginal epithelium rather than on the epithelial surface.

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