Study Shows Personal Lubricants Amplify HIV Replication and Cause Rectal Tissue Damage In Vitro
Newly published Population Council laboratory research underscores need for additional safety testing of personal lubricants; "But what happens in the laboratory environment does not always happen in the human body," notes co-author
NEW YORK (17 February 2011) — In vitro studies have shown that some personal lubricants used during sexual intercourse significantly enhance the replication of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and cause rectal tissue damage, according to Population Council research published in the journal AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses. In vitro experiments are conducted in an artificial environment, such as in a test tube, not in a living organism.
The Population Council research team evaluated 41 of the hundreds of brands available, including a majority of those identified in a survey of users of anal sex lubricants.*
Low doses of four Astroglide formulations—Liquid, Warming Liquid, Glycerin & Paraben‐Free Liquid, and Silken Secret—substantially amplified HIV replication in these laboratory studies. All of these products contain either polyquaternium or polyquaternium-15.
"We didn't find any polyquaterniums in any of the other lubricant formulations in our studies," noted lead author and Population Council research technician Othell Begay.
Council researchers also demonstrated that the majority of the tested lubricants damaged rectal tissue, which may have implications for enhancing HIV transmission in humans.
"It is important to emphasize that our findings are from in vitro studies. What happens in the laboratory environment does not always happen in the human body. In fact, lubricants generally appear to play an important role in preventing the spread of HIV. Intercourse without them can damage cells by creating friction, which could cause tears in the epithelium, thus possibly promoting HIV transmission. But we need to know more," said co-author and Population Council senior research investigator José Romero.
Personal lubricants have been available for decades, but knowledge about their impact on the transmission of STIs, including HIV, is limited. In the United States the Food and Drug Administration requires that manufacturers test lubricants for vaginal irritation, but does not require similar studies to ensure safety for rectal use.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that substances not marketed as lubricants, such as vegetable oils, are used during sexual intercourse, especially in low-income households and in the developing world. The contribution of these substances to tissue damage and STI transmission, if any, is unknown.
Outside funding for this research was provided by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. Additional information is available online (more).
This effort is part of the Population Council aim to develop and introduce safe, effective microbicides for vaginal and/or rectal use to prevent transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The Council’s lead candidate is a novel combination of an antiretroviral and zinc acetate in a carrageenan-based gel. It completely protected monkeys from infection with the strain of the virus that causes AIDS in monkeys for up to 24 hours.
* International Rectal Microbicide Advocates (IRMA). 2008. Less Science, More Science: Advocacy to Make Rectal Microbicides a Reality. Chicago: IRMA. (offsite PDF)
Article: Begay, Othell, Ninochka Jean-Pierre, Ciby Abraham, Anne Chudolij, Samantha Seidor, Aixa Rodriguez, Brian Ford, Marcus Henderson, David Katz, Thomas Zydowsky, Melissa Robbiani, and José A. Fernandez-Romero. 2011. "Identification of personal lubricants that can cause rectal epithelial cell damage and enhance HIV‐1 replication in vitro," AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses. (unedited text available: offsite PDF)
Additional information: IRMA. 2010. "Safety of lubricants for rectal use: Questions and answers for HIV educators and advocates." Chicago: IRMA. (offsite PDF)
Related project: Determining the Safety of Sexual Lubricants
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The Population Council confronts critical health and development issues—from stopping the spread of HIV to improving reproductive health and ensuring that young people lead full and productive lives. Through biomedical, social science, and public health research in 50 countries, we work with our partners to deliver solutions that lead to more effective policies, programs, and technologies that improve lives around the world. Established in 1952 and headquartered in New York, the Council is a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization governed by an international board of trustees.
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