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 (LCs), they do not harbor Birbeck granules. Individuals primarily acquire HIV-1 that utilizes 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 with R5 HIV-1 shows limited to no replication in CD1a+ VEDCs. This differential replication occurs after fusion, suggesting that receptor usage influences postentry 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 infected early during heterosexual transmission and also retain virus during treatment. Understanding the interplay between HIV-1 and CD1a+ VEDCs is important for future prevention and cure strategies.


Victor Pena-Cruz, Luis M. Agosto, Hisashi Akiyama, Alex Olson, Yvetane Moreau, Jean-Robert Larrieux, Andrew Henderson, Suryaram Gummuluru, Manish Sagar


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