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J Immunol. 2013 Oct 15;191(8):4246-58. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1301482. Epub 2013 Sep 16.

HIV-1 gp120 induces TLR2- and TLR4-mediated innate immune activation in human female genital epithelium.

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McMaster Immunology Research Centre, Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1, Canada;


Although women constitute half of all HIV-1-infected people worldwide (UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report, 2011), the earliest events in the female reproductive tract (FRT) during heterosexual HIV-1 transmission are poorly understood. Recently, we demonstrated that HIV-1 could directly impair the mucosal epithelial barrier in the FRT. This suggested that the HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein gp120 was being recognized by a membrane receptor on genital epithelial cells, leading to innate immune activation. In this study, we report that pattern-recognition receptors TLR2 and -4 bind to HIV-1 gp120 and trigger proinflammatory cytokine production via activation of NF-κB. The gp120-TLR interaction also required the presence of heparan sulfate (HS). Bead-binding assays showed that gp120 can bind to HS, TLR2, and TLR4, and studies in transfected HEK293 cells demonstrated that HS and TLR2 and -4 were necessary to mediate downstream signaling. Exposure to seminal plasma from HIV-1-infected and uninfected men with gp120 added to it induced a significant proinflammatory cytokine response from genital epithelial cells and disruption of tight junctions, indicating a role for gp120 in mucosal barrier disruption during HIV-1 heterosexual transmission. These studies provide, for the first time to our knowledge, a possible mechanism by which HIV-1 gp120 could directly initiate innate immune activation in the FRT during heterosexual transmission.

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