Introduction: Optimizing methods for genital specimen collection to accurately characterize mucosal immune responses is a priority for the HIV prevention field. The menstrual cup (MC) has been proposed as an alternative to other methods including cervicovaginal lavage (CVL), but no study has yet formally compared these two methods. Methods: Forty HIV-infected, antiretroviral therapy-naïve women from the CAPRISA 002 acute HIV infection cohort study were randomized to have genital fluid collected using the MC with subsequent CVL, or by CVL alone. Qualitative data, which assessed levels of comfort and acceptability of MC using a 5-point Likert scale, was collected. Luminex multiplex assays were used to measure HIV-specific IgG against multiple gene products and 48 cytokines. Results: The majority (94%) of participants indicated that insertion, wearing and removal of the MC was comfortable. Nineteen MCs with 18 matching, subsequent CVLs and 20 randomized CVLs were available for analysis. Mucosal IgG responses against four HIV-antigens were detected in 99% of MCs compared to only 80% of randomized CVLs (p = 0.029). Higher specific antibody activity and total antibodies were observed in MCs compared to CVL (all p<0.001). In MCs, 42/48 (88%) cytokines were in the detectable range in all participants compared to 27/48 (54%) in CVL (p<0.001). Concentrations of 22/41 cytokines (53.7%) were significantly higher in fluid collected by MC. Both total IgG (r = 0.63; p = 0.005) and cytokine concentrations (r = 0.90; p<0.001) correlated strongly between MC and corresponding post-MC CVL. Conclusions: MC sampling improves the detection of mucosal cytokines and antibodies, particularly those present at low concentrations. MC may therefore represent an ideal tool to assess immunological parameters in genital secretions, without interfering with concurrent collection of conventional CVL samples.
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