The role of the local microenvironment in regulating susceptibility and immune responses to sexually transmitted viruses in the female genital tract
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Sexually transmitted viruses cause chronic infections that have serious long-term health consequences. Based on the evidence from clinical and epidemiological studies, women carry a disproportionately higher burden of sexually transmitted diseases. The reasons for this are not well understood and possibly relate to a variety of social, behavioral and economic factors. In addition to these factors there are biological reasons that contribute to the higher prevalence in women. In this context it is critical to focus on and understand the local microenvironment of the female genital tract, since the majority of viral infections in women occur by heterosexual transmission. The genital tract is also the target site for initiation and maintenance of protective immune responses that could prevent or eliminate viral infections. The epithelial cells of the genital tract provide the first line of defense against viral entry. The interactions between each sexually transmitted virus and the genital epithelium are distinct and determine the outcome of exposure. They are also influenced by a number of factors in the local genital milieu. Among these factors are the female sex hormones that regulate both the susceptibility as well as immune responses to viral infections in the genital tract. Better understanding of the interactions of viruses with the local environment in the female genital tract will lead to development of novel methods to prevent sexually transmitted infections as well as to enhance innate and adaptive immunity.
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