PloS one

Transcytosis of HIV-1 through vaginal epithelial cells is dependent on trafficking to the endocytic recycling pathway.

PMID 24830293


While it is accepted that viruses can enter epithelial cells by endocytosis, the lack of an established biological mechanism for the trafficking of infectious virions through vaginal epithelial cells and their release from the plasma membrane has contributed to ongoing controversy about whether endocytosis is a mere artifact of some cell culture systems and whether squamous vaginal epithelial cells are even relevant as it pertains to HIV-1 transmission. In this study, we investigated the intracellular trafficking pathway that HIV-1 exploits to transcytose vaginal epithelial cells. The reduction of endosome tubulation by recycling endosome inhibitors blocked transcytosis of HIV-1 in a cell culture and transwell system. In addition, we demonstrate that although heat-inactivated virus was endocytosed as efficiently as native virus, heat-inactivated virus was trafficked exclusively to the lysosomal pathway for degradation following endocytosis. Lysosomal protease-specific inhibitors blocked the degradation of inactivated virions. Immunofluorescence analysis not only demonstrated that HIV-1 was inside the cells but the different colocalization pattern of native vs. heat inactivated virus with transferrin provided conclusive evidence that HIV-1 uses the recycling pathway to get across vaginal epithelial cells. Altogether, our findings demonstrate the precise intracellular trafficking pathway utilized by HIV-1 in epithelial cells, confirms that HIV-1 transcytosis through vaginal epithelial cells is a biological phenomenon and brings to light the differential intracellular trafficking of native vs heat-inactivated HIV-1 which with further exploration could prove to provide valuable insights that could be used in the prevention of transcytosis/transmission of HIV-1 across the mucosal epithelia.