The bacteria found in men’s semen, also known as the semen microbiome, may affect the sexual transmissibility of the HIV virus, according to a team of researchers including Dr. Lance Price, a professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University.
[Photo: Dr. Lance Price]
Scientists have known that the risk of HIV transmission increases in tandem with the amount of HIV in men’s semen, also known as the semen viral load. Some men produce large amounts of virus in their semen despite having low levels in their blood, which researchers call “compartmentalization.” In the study, senior author Dr. Price and his colleagues sought to better understand how HIV can be compartmentalized by studying the relationship between bacteria, viruses, and immune factors in semen during HIV infection.
The new study reports that HIV infection changes the relationship between the bacteria and immune factors in semen, which are both linked to semen HIV levels. “Our findings suggest that semen bacteria may play a role in the immune response and viral load in the semen,” says Dr. Price. “With further study, these findings might point to new ways to control the spread of HIV.” Dr. Price also holds an appointment at the Arizona-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).
Other researchers on the study include Dr. Cindy Liu, a clinical pathology resident at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and an adjunct professor at TGen at the time of the study, and Dr. Rupert Kaul, an immunologist at the University of Toronto. The study was published July 24 in the journal PLOS Pathogens.