First published May 3, 2018 - More info
HIV-1 acquisition occurs most commonly after sexual contact. To establish infection, HIV-1 must infect cells that support high level replication, namely CD4+ T cells, which are absent from the outermost genital epithelium. Dendritic cells (DCs), present in mucosal epithelia, potentially facilitate HIV-1 acquisition. We show that vaginal epithelial DCs, termed CD1a+ VEDCs, are unlike other blood and tissue derived DCs because they express langerin but not DC-SIGN, and unlike skin-based langerin+ DC subset, Langerhans cells (LC), they do not harbor Birbeck granules. Individuals primarily acquire HIV-1 that utilize the CCR5 receptor (termed either R5 or R5X4) during heterosexual transmission, and the mechanism for the block against variants that only use the CXCR4 receptor (classified as X4) remains unclear. We show that X4 as compared to R5 HIV-1 show limited to no replication in CD1a+ VEDCs. This differential replication occurs post-fusion suggesting that receptor usage influences post-entry steps in the virus life-cycle. Furthermore, CD1a+ VEDCs isolated from HIV-1 infected virologically suppressed women harbor HIV-1 DNA. Thus, CD1a+ VEDCs are potentially both infected early during heterosexual transmission and retain virus during treatment. Understanding the interplay between HIV-1 and CD1a+ VEDCs will be important for future prevention and cure strategies.