Dr. Julie Overbaugh was one of several Hutch AIDS researchers speaking at the ninth Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections Feb. 24-28 at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center.
Overbaugh, of the Human Biology Division, highlighted recent research from her lab on the influence of female hormones on transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. HIV can be transmitted between individuals via sexual contact as well as passed from mothers to their infants. She described collaborations between her lab and Dr. Joan Kreiss's group at the University of Washington.
One study, involving Overbaugh-lab postdoc Dr. Manish Sagar, Dr. Ludo Lavreys and investigators in Mombasa, Kenya, examined how a woman acquires one form of HIV or multiple variants after sexual contact with an infected person. HIV mutates rapidly during infection, so a single person often harbors genetically distinct forms of the virus.
Sagar and colleagues found an link between hormonal contraceptive use during infection and the presence of multiple viral forms. Thus, hormones may trigger acquisition of multiple HIV types. The group also found that acquisition of multiple viruses may lead to faster progression to AIDS.
Sarah Benki, also of the Overbaugh lab, found that levels of virus in cervical secretions from infected women are highest as women approach menstruation and lowest during ovulation. This study, performed with Sara Mostad at UW and Kenyan researchers, suggests that normal fluctuations in female sex hormones in the menstrual cycle may lead to fluctuations in the levels of viral shedding.
Sponsored by the Foundation for Retrovirology and Human Health with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the meeting drew the world's HIV researchers.