While investigating whether proteins retrieved by cervicovaginal lavages (CVL) from women with cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) might correlate with risk of progression to invasive cervical cancer, we unexpectedly identified HIV gag and env glycoprotein in CVL from women with HIV-negative serology. HIV antigens were consistently identified by mass spectrometry (MS) in CVL from 4 women but were absent in CVL from the remaining 16 women. HIV serologies of all 20 patients were negative for both HIV-1 and HIV-2 antibodies. To validate the unexpected MS findings we performed Western blot (WB) and immunoaffinity chromatography (IC) analysis of CVL for HIV proteins, viral load assays of paired CVL and blood samples, and immunohistochemical HIV p24 expression in cervical biopsy specimens. WB analysis of CVL for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) was performed to exclude semen contamination as the source of HIV proteins. WB and IC results demonstrated the presence of HIV-1 gp41 and p24 antigens in four CVL that were identified by MS to have the HIV proteins. Despite negative serology, HIV RNA in CVL and HIV p24 in cervix biopsies were detected in patients with HIV antigen-positive CVL. HIV p24-positive CVL were PSA negative. All 20 subjects remained HIV seronegative throughout the study. Women with HIV proteins and RNA were comparatively older. Our findings suggest that CVL HIV proteins in women with CIN could be markers for unrecognized HIV exposure or subclinical infection. Proteomic screening of cervical secretions may be useful in identifying seronegative women exposed to HIV and/or at risk for AIDS.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Infectious Diseases