Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are major health problems worldwide, and despite identification of the causative agents and understanding of the mechanism of transmission, many have continued to grow in prevalence. Untreated, STIs may complicate pregnancy and fertility, lead to stillbirth, or result in chronic disease or death. Decades of research have offered glimpses into the pathophysiology of many of these diseases, but as the reviews in this series make clear, a deeper understanding of the natural history of infection, the molecular biology of the agents, and the environment of the hosts they invade will be necessary to achieve their control and eradication. Cover image credit: Thomas Quinn
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have plagued humans for millennia and can result in chronic disease, pregnancy complications, infertility, and even death. Recent technological advances have led to a better understanding of the causative agents for these infections as well as aspects of their pathogenesis that might represent novel therapeutic targets. The articles in this Review Series provide excellent updates on the recent advances in understanding of the pathogenesis of some very important and persistent STIs and discuss the importance of considering each pathogen in the broader context of the environment of the individual who it infects.
Syphilis is a fascinating and perplexing infection, with protean clinical manifestations and both diagnostic and management ambiguities. Treponema pallidum subsp. pallidum, the agent of syphilis, is challenging to study in part because it cannot be cultured or genetically manipulated. Here, we review recent progress in the application of modern molecular techniques to understanding the biological basis of this multistage disease and to the development of new tools for diagnosis, for predicting efficacy of treatment with alternative antibiotics, and for studying the transmission of infection through population networks.
Emily L. Ho, Sheila A. Lukehart
The discovery that certain high-risk strains of human papillomavirus (HR-HPV) cause nearly 100% of invasive cervical cancer has spurred a revolution in cervical cancer prevention by promoting the development of viral vaccines. Although the efficacy of these vaccines has already been demonstrated, a complete understanding of viral latency and natural immunity is lacking, and solving these mysteries could help guide policies of cervical cancer screening and vaccine use. Here, we examine the epidemiological and biological understanding of the natural history of HPV infection, with an eye toward using these studies to guide the implementation of cervical cancer prevention strategies.
Patti E. Gravitt
Herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is one of the most prevalent sexually transmitted infections worldwide. In addition to recurrent genital ulcers, HSV-2 causes neonatal herpes, and it is associated with a 3-fold increased risk for HIV acquisition. Although many HSV-2 vaccines have been studied in animal models, few have reached clinical trials, and those that have been tested in humans were not consistently effective. Here, we review HSV-2 pathogenesis, with a focus on novel understanding of mucosal immunobiology of HSV-2, and vaccine efforts to date, in an attempt to stimulate thinking about future directions for development of effective prophylactic and therapeutic HSV-2 vaccines.
Christine Johnston, David M. Koelle, Anna Wald
Vaginal bacterial communities are thought to help prevent sexually transmitted infections. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common clinical syndrome in which the protective lactic acid–producing bacteria (mainly species of the Lactobacillus genus) are supplanted by a diverse array of anaerobic bacteria. Epidemiologically, BV has been shown to be an independent risk factor for adverse outcomes including preterm birth, development of pelvic inflammatory disease, and acquisition of sexually transmitted infections. Longitudinal studies of the vaginal microbiome using molecular techniques such as 16S ribosomal DNA analysis may lead to interventions that shift the vaginal microbiota toward more protective states.
Rebecca M. Brotman