Lactic acid's role in protecting women at risk of HIV

Burnet Institute

23 October, 2017

Key research on protection for women at risk of HIV was presented by Burnet’s Professor Gilda Tachedjian at the 3rd International Workshop on the Microbiome in HIV Pathogenesis, Prevention and Treatment in Rockville, Maryland, USA.

Professor Tachedjian, Burnet’s Head of Life Sciences Discipline, and also Head, Tachedjian Group, presented Burnet’s findings that a metabolite produced by bacteria in the vaginal tract could help protect women at increased risk of HIV from contracting the virus.

“This study has exciting translational implications and opens further opportunities for research to address women with susceptibility to HIV,” Professor Tachedjian said.

Professor Tachedjian presented the findings, published this year in a Nature stable journal, that vaginal lactic acid, which occurs at high concentrations in women with beneficial lactobacillus bacteria, plays a key role in dampening vaginal inflammation in lab-based studies.

“What we showed in the laboratory is that not only did lactic acid dampen production of pro-inflammatory mediators from epithelial cells that provide a physical and immunological barrier in the vaginal tract, it also resulted in the production of an anti-inflammatory mediator,” Professor Tachedjian said.

“That would suggest a mechanism whereby women, in part, are likely to be protected if they have this beneficial bacteria, compared to women who have high-diversity, anaerobic bacteria.”

Eighty percent of all young women living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, and HIV is the leading cause of death of women of reproductive age in the region.

A recent study of young African women linked diverse vaginal microbiota and genital inflammation with a greater than fourfold increased risk of acquiring HIV. Notably, women with lactobacillus-dominated vaginal microbiota were protected from HIV in this cohort.

The Tachedjian Group (Retroviral Biology and Antivirals) research highlights the potential use of lactic acid-containing agents or lactic acid-producing probiotics as adjuncts to antiretroviral-based female-initiated HIV prevention strategies.

Close to 37 million people are estimated to be infected with HIV globally, with almost of half of these women.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Gilda Tachedjian

Head of Life Sciences; Head of Tachedjian Laboratory (Retroviral Biology and Antivirals)




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