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Keywords:

  • Human immunodeficiency virus;
  • immune responses;
  • mucosal immunity;
  • vaccines

Although the genital tract is considered to be a component of the mucosal immune system, it displays several distinct features not shared by other typical mucosal tissues and external secretions. Both male and female genital tract tissues lack inductive mucosal sites analogous to intestinal Peyer's patches. Consequently, local humoral and cellular immune responses stimulated by infections [with e.g. Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Chlamydia trachomatis, papilloma virus, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1)] are weak or absent, and repeated local intravaginal immunizations result in minimal humoral responses. In contrast to typical external secretions such as intestinal fluid that contain secretory immunoglobulin A (S-IgA) as the dominant isotype, semen and cervico-vaginal fluid contain more IgG than IgA. Furthermore, irrespective of the route of infection, humoral immune responses to HIV-1 are dominated by specific IgG and low or absent IgA antibodies in all external secretions. Because a significant proportion of IgG in genital tract secretions is derived from the circulation, systemic immunization may provide protective IgG antibody-mediated immunity in the genital tract. Furthermore, combined systemic and mucosal (oral, rectal, and especially intranasal) immunization may induce protective humoral responses in both the systemic and mucosal compartments of the immune system.