Visualization of HIV-1 Interactions with Penile and Foreskin Epithelia: Clues for Female-to-Male HIV Transmission

Minh H. Dinh*, Meegan R. Anderson, Michael D. McRaven, Gianguido C. Cianci, Scott G. McCoombe, Z. L. Kelley, Casey J. Gioia, Angela J. Fought, Alfred W. Rademaker, Ronald S. Veazey, Thomas J. Hope

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


To gain insight into female-to-male HIV sexual transmission and how male circumcision protects against this mode of transmission, we visualized HIV-1 interactions with foreskin and penile tissues in ex vivo tissue culture and in vivo rhesus macaque models utilizing epifluorescent microscopy. 12 foreskin and 14 cadaveric penile specimens were cultured with R5-tropic photoactivatable (PA)-GFP HIV-1 for 4 or 24 hours. Tissue cryosections were immunofluorescently imaged for epithelial and immune cell markers. Images were analyzed for total virions, proportion of penetrators, depth of virion penetration, as well as immune cell counts and depths in the tissue. We visualized individual PA virions breaching penile epithelial surfaces in the explant and macaque model. Using kernel density estimated probabilities of localizing a virion or immune cell at certain tissue depths revealed that interactions between virions and cells were more likely to occur in the inner foreskin or glans penis (from local or cadaveric donors, respectively). Using statistical models to account for repeated measures and zero-inflated datasets, we found no difference in total virions visualized at 4 hours between inner and outer foreskins from local donors. At 24 hours, there were more virions in inner as compared to outer foreskin (0.0495 +/− 0.0154 and 0.0171 +/− 0.0038 virions/image, p = 0.001). In the cadaveric specimens, we observed more virions in inner foreskin (0.0507 +/− 0.0079 virions/image) than glans tissue (0.0167 +/− 0.0033 virions/image, p<0.001), but a greater proportion was seen penetrating uncircumcised glans tissue (0.0458 +/− 0.0188 vs. 0.0151 +/− 0.0100 virions/image, p = 0.099) and to significantly greater mean depths (29.162 +/− 3.908 vs. 12.466 +/− 2.985 μm). Our in vivo macaque model confirmed that virions can breach penile squamous epithelia in a living model. In summary, these results suggest that the inner foreskin and glans epithelia may be important sites for HIV transmission in uncircumcised men.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1004729
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Parasitology
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Virology


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