Worldwide, more than half of all HIV-infected individuals are women. Since mucosal surfaces are the primary gateway for HIV entry, maintaining the integrity of the female reproductive tract (FRT) is essential for preventing infection. The FRT employs many immune mechanisms that serve as the first line of defense against HIV transmission. Among these are vaginal fluid secretions rich in antimicrobial peptides, and commensal bacteria that colonize the vagina and prevent infections. We sought to study vaginal fluid as an innate immune component of the FRT in the prevention of HIV infection. Additionally, we investigated the anti-HIV microbicide candidate RC-101 as a possible treatment against pathogenic bacteria that disrupt the healthy microbiota of the FRT and create a suboptimal immune state that increases host susceptibility to viruses, such as HIV. Here we report that vaginal fluid collected from healthy females inhibits HIV infection. Moreover, our studies reveal that vaginal fluid collected from Black and White women exhibit disparate anti-HIV activity, possibly rendering Black women more susceptible to HIV infection. In addition, we show that RC-101, which is active against HIV, can also inhibit pathogenic bacteria that compromise FRT innate immunity, providing a dual mechanism of protection against HIV acquisition. Overall, these findings show that vaginal fluid is an important part of female innate immunity that protects the host from heterosexual HIV acquisition. Furthermore, the microbicide RC-101 may prevent HIV infection by both directly preventing viral entry, and by restricting the growth of pathogenic bacteria that disrupt the protective commensal vaginal flora. Together, innate mechanisms and bolstered protection present a multifaceted approach to maintaining effective host immunity.


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Thesis Completion





Cole, Alexander M.


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences

Degree Program

Molecular Biology and Microbiology


Dissertations, Academic -- Medicine;Medicine -- Dissertations, Academic







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access

5 years

Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis