Research Article

Vaginal bacteria modify HIV tenofovir microbicide efficacy in African women

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Science  02 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6341, pp. 938-945
DOI: 10.1126/science.aai9383

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Vaginal microbiome influences HIV acquisition

Tenofovir is a preexposure drug used to prevent HIV infection. In clinical trials, tenofovir was effective for men, but not women. Klatt et al. now show that tenofovir efficacy in women depends on the composition of the vaginal microbiome (see the Perspective by Tuddenham and Ghanem). In a clinical trial of 688 women, tenofovir was three times as effective among those with a Lactobacillus-dominant vaginal microbiome as it was among other women. Gardnerella vaginalis tended to predominate in the women for whom tenofovir was less effective, and the authors found that the organism could rapidly metabolize and thereby inactivate the drug.

Science, this issue p. 938; see also p. 907


Antiretroviral-based strategies for HIV prevention have shown inconsistent results in women. We investigated whether vaginal microbiota modulated tenofovir gel microbicide efficacy in the CAPRISA (Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa) 004 trial. Two major vaginal bacterial community types—one dominated by Lactobacillus (59.2%) and the other where Gardnerella vaginalis predominated with other anaerobic bacteria (40.8%)—were identified in 688 women profiled. Tenofovir reduced HIV incidence by 61% (P = 0.013) in Lactobacillus-dominant women but only 18% (P = 0.644) in women with non-Lactobacillus bacteria, a threefold difference in efficacy. Detectible mucosal tenofovir was lower in non-Lactobacillus women, negatively correlating with G. vaginalis and other anaerobic bacteria, which depleted tenofovir by metabolism more rapidly than target cells convert to pharmacologically active drug. This study provides evidence linking vaginal bacteria to microbicide efficacy through tenofovir depletion via bacterial metabolism.

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