Scientists develop the first animal model for HIV sexual transmission

Mary Jane Potash and her colleagues from St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center and Columbia University Medical Center in New York City announced on Thursday that they have developed an approach for modeling heterosexual transmission of HIV in mice.

The researchers used a variant of HIV that allows the virus to spread in rodents instead of humans. The variant has been previously used to study aspects of HIV neuropathogenesis and to evaluate antiretroviral drugs and potential HIV vaccines. The study examined transmission of HIV in infected male mice to uninfected females through sexual reproduction.

This was the first time HIV transmission through mating has been reported in an animal model.

"We developed this system to study HIV spread by mating in mice with the hope that it can be applied to promote practical approaches to prevent HIV sexual transmission to people at risk," Potash said.

The researchers discovered that the hormonal environment of the female reproductive tract in mice can impact host susceptibility to HIV infection, which may serve as a relevant data point when compared to the human menstrual cycle.

The model also differed from previous research methods because instead of using viral stocks that needed to be applied manually to the vaginal surface of mice actual mating took place, making the results more realistic and a better model for scientists to work off of.