The microbiome and HIV prevention strategies in women

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Purpose of review

HIV prevention approaches that women can use and control are a priority. Results from topical and oral preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) HIV prevention trials have produced inconsistent results in women. One of the main behavioural factors impacting effectiveness of PrEP has been suboptimal adherence. In this review, we examine biological factors that modulate topical PrEP efficacy, with particular focus on the vaginal microbiome.

Recent findings

Genital inflammation is an independent risk factor for HIV acquisition in women. Using 16S rRNA sequencing of the vaginal microbiota, anaerobic bacteria linked with bacterial vaginosis have been shown to be associated with both genital inflammation and HIV risk. Using proteomics, it was recently discovered that a dysbiotic vaginal microbiome, comprising less than 50% Lactobacillus spp., directly influenced topical PrEP efficacy. Gardnerella vaginalis, the dominant vaginal species in dysbiotic women, was able to directly degrade tenofovir, but not dapivirine, an antiretroviral also being developed for topical PrEP.


The link between bacterial vaginosis-associated organisms with HIV risk and altered tenofovir gel effectiveness underscores the importance of good vaginal health and good adherence for women to benefit maximally from topical PrEP. Altering the vaginal microbiome is one of the new directions being pursued for HIV prevention.

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