Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Immunomodulatory factors in cervicovaginal secretions from pregnant and non-pregnant women: A cross-sectional study

Jan Walter1*, Linda Fraga2, Melanie J Orin1, William D Decker3, Theresa Gipps2, Alice Stek2 and Grace M Aldrovandi3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology, University of California, Riverside, USA

2 LAC+USC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA

3 Division of Infectious Diseases, Children's Hospital Los Angeles, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:263  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-263

Published: 30 September 2011



Pregnant women are at an increased risk for HIV infection due to unknown biological causes. Given the strong effect of sex-hormones on the expression of immunomuodulatory factors, the central role of mucosal immunity in HIV pathogenesis and the lack of previous studies, we here tested for differences in immunomuodulatory factors in cervico-vaginal secretions between pregnant and non-pregnant women.


We compared concentrations of 39 immunomodulatory factors in cervicovaginal lavages (CVL) from 21 pregnant women to those of 24 non-pregnant healthy women from the US. We used Bonferroni correction to correct for multiple testing and linear regression modeling to adjust for possible confounding by plasma cytokine concentration, cervical ectopy, total protein concentration, and other possible confounders. Cervical ectopy was determined by planimetry. Concentration of immunomodulatory factors were measured by a multiplex assay, protein concentration by the Bradford Method.


Twenty six (66%) of the 39 measured immunomodulatory factors were detectable in at least half of the CVL samples included in the study. Pregnant women had threefold lower CVL concentration of CCL22 (geometric mean: 29.6 pg/ml versus 89.7 pg/ml, p = 0.0011) than non-pregnant women. CVL CCL22 concentration additionally correlated negatively with gestational age (Spearman correlation coefficient [RS]: -0.49, p = 0.0006). These associations remained significant when corrected for multiple testing.

CCL22 concentration in CVL was positively correlated with age and negatively correlated with time since last coitus and the size of cervical ectopy. However, none of these associations could explain the difference of CCL22 concentration between pregnant and non-pregnant women in this study, which remained significant in adjusted analysis.


In this study population, pregnancy is associated with reduced concentrations of CCL22 in cervicovaginal secretions. The role of CCL22 on HIV transmission should now be investigated in prospective studies.