• microbicide;
  • HIV prevention;
  • female genital tract;
  • tenofovir gel;
  • pre-exposure prophylaxis


Worldwide, HIV disproportionately affects women who are often unable to negotiate traditional HIV preventive strategies such as condoms. In the absence of an effective vaccine or cure, chemoprophylaxis may be a valuable self-initiated alternative. Topical microbicides have been investigated as one such option. The first generation topical microbicides were non-specific, broad-spectrum antimicrobial agents, including surfactants, polyanions, and acid buffering gels, that generally exhibited contraceptive properties. After extensive clinical study, none prevented HIV infection, and their development was abandoned. Second generation topical microbicides include agents with selective mechanisms of antiviral activity. Most are currently being used for, or have previously been explored as, drugs for treatment of HIV. The most advanced of these is tenofovir 1% gel: the first topical agent shown to significantly reduce HIV infection by 39% compared to placebo. This review summarizes the evolution of topical microbicides for HIV chemoprophylaxis, highlights important concepts learned, and offers current and future considerations for this area of research.