Research Article: Impact of chronic sexual abuse and depression on inflammation and wound healing in the female reproductive tract of HIV-uninfected and HIV-infected women

Date Published: June 12, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Mimi Ghosh, Jason Daniels, Maria Pyra, Monika Juzumaite, Mariel Jais, Kerry Murphy, Tonya N. Taylor, Seble Kassaye, Lorie Benning, Mardge Cohen, Kathleen Weber, Soraya Seedat.


Sexual violence is associated with increased risk of HIV acquisition/transmission in women. Forced sex can result in physical trauma to the reproductive tract as well as severe psychological distress. However, immuno-biological mechanisms linking sexual violence and HIV susceptibility are incompletely understood. Using the Women’s Interagency HIV Study repository, a total of 77 women were selected to form 4 groups, stratified by HIV serostatus, in the following categories: 1) no sexual abuse history and low depressive symptom score (below clinically significant cut-off, scores <16) (Control); 2) no sexual abuse history but high depressive symptom score, ≥16 (Depression); 3) chronic sexual abuse exposure and low depressive symptom score (Abuse); 4) chronic sexual abuse exposure and high depressive symptom score (Abuse+Depression). Inflammation-associated cytokines/chemokines/proteases (TNF-α, IL-6, IL-1α, IL-1β, TGF-β MIP-3α, IP-10, MCP-1, Cathepsin B), anti-inflammatory/anti-HIV mediators (Secretory leukocyte protease inhibitor (SLPI), Elafin, beta defensin 2 (HBD2), alpha defensins (HNP 1–3), Thrombospondin (TSP-1), Serpin A1, A5, Cystatin A, B), and wound-healing mediators (Gro-α, VEGF, PDGF, EGF, FGF, IGF), were measured in cervical-vaginal lavage (CVL) using ELISA. Linear regression was used to model association of biomarkers with depression and abuse as predictor variables; the interaction between depression and abuse was also tested. Anti-HIV activity in CVL was tested using TZM-bl indicator cell line. In HIV-uninfected women, median levels of IL-6 (p = 0.04), IL-1α (p<0.01), TGF-β (p = 0.01), IP-10 (p = <0.01), PDGF (p<0.01) and FGF (p<0.01), differed significantly between groups. Specifically, an association was found between chronic sexual abuse and increased IL-1α (p<0.01), MIP-3α (p = 0.04), IP-10 (p<0.01), Serpin B1 (p = 0.01), FGF (p = 0.04) and decreased TGF-β (p<0.01), MCP-1 (p = 0.02), PDGF (p<0.01). Further, there was evidence of significant interactions between chronic sexual abuse and current depression for IL-1α, IP-10, Serpin A1, Cystatin B, and FGF. In HIV-infected women, median levels of TNF-α (p<0.01), IL-6 (p = 0.05), MIP-3α (p<0.01), and MCP-1 (p = 0.01), differed significantly between groups. Specifically, an association was found between chronic sexual abuse and increased MCP-1 (p = 0.03), Gro-α (p = 0.01) and decreased TNF-α (p<0.01), IL-1α (p = 0.02), MIP-3α (p<0.01) and Cathepsin B (p = 0.03). Current depressive symptoms were associated with significantly decreased MIP-3α (p<0.01). There was evidence of significant interactions between chronic sexual abuse and current depression for MCP-1 and FGF. No significant differences were observed in anti-HIV activity among all eight groups. Heat-map analyses revealed distinct immune network patterns, particularly in the Abuse groups for both HIV-infected and uninfected women. Our data indicates a complex relationship between chronic sexual abuse exposure, depressive symptoms, and FRT immune mediators that are also affected by HIV status. Association of chronic sexual abuse with increase in inflammation-associated cytokine/chemokine expression, along with impaired wound-healing associated growth-factors can create a microenvironment that can facilitate HIV infection. Evaluation of longitudinal changes in exposures and biomarkers are needed to untangle the immuno-biological mechanisms that may put women who endure life-long sexual abuse at increased risk for HIV.

Partial Text

Violence and HIV/AIDS form a tragic feedback loop that disproportionately affects women worldwide [1]. In the United States alone, partner violence and sexual assault are the first and sixth leading causes of injury in women, respectively [2],[3]. Globally, it is estimated that about 1 in 3 women experience physical violence in their lifetimes, most of which is committed by an intimate partner [4]. Women are also more likely to be affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As of 2015, 51% of all HIV infections were in women, with the greatest burden (60%) among young adults [5]. Violence against women has been significantly associated with increased risk of HIV acquisition/transmission [1],[6].

Our data indicate that exposure to chronic sexual abuse and current depressive symptoms can be associated with immune alterations which can include a state of inflammation, immune activation, and modified wound healing pathways within the FRT, thereby increasing risk of HIV acquisition/transmission. These findings have clinical implications in HIV prevention efforts, as therapies that abate inflammation and immune activation (such as using anti-inflammatory drugs, [52]) and modulate wound healing [53], could be applied to reduce risks of HIV infection in women who have histories of abuse and depression. Fig 4 shows a schematic of our hypothesis and major findings.




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