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Female sex hormones play a vital role in defense against sexually transmitted diseases

Two McMaster University studies, to be published in the Journal of Virology, show that sex hormones have a profound effect on susceptibility of female mice to the herpes simplex virus, type 2 (HSV-2 ), one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases.

Charu Kaushic, assistant professor and supervisor of the studies, says the implication of this work is quite significant. "The research clearly shows, and reaffirms previous research, that in female mice, sex hormones have a profound effect on susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections as well as on the body's defense mechanisms against them."

One of the many implications of these findings she says, is that if future studies can figure out that women too, like mice, are protected in primary exposure by estradiol, contraceptive creams could be formulated that would prevent herpes virus infection before they could start. Additionally she says, if they were designing a vaccine trial against HSV-2 and if the mice results hold true for women, they could suggest vaccination protocols under combination hormone therapy to get the best benefit from the vaccine.

Work in this area is important because one in every four sexually active adults is seropositive for HSV-2 and women are much more susceptible than men.

"The results directly indicate that the hormonal conditions that provide protection against primary exposure to sexually transmitted viral infections may be very different than those that may be useful in vaccination strategies," said Kaushic.

"There is of course the flip side to this as well. Our studies in mice and in fact a number of clinical studies as well show that women who use Depo-provera, a progesterone based injectable contraceptive, have particularly high susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV-1 and HSV-2. We do not understand why, and our hope is that by doing these kind of mouse studies, we can understand the mechanisms."

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Source:McMaster University


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