A protein expressed by epithelial cells of the female reproductive tract appears to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), report researchers from Monash University, in Australia (Fung KY et al. Science. 2013;339:1088-1092).
The investigators found that mice lacking interferon epsilon (IFN-ϵ) had increased susceptibility to infection by herpes simplex virus 2 and Chlamydia muridarum.
Expression of IFN-ϵ, which is hormonally regulated, varies approximately 30-fold during the reproductive cycle. It is essentially switched off at implantation in pregnancy and during menopause, indicating that women may be most susceptible to STIs during these times. The distinctive protective properties of IFN-ϵ may suggest new prevention and treatment strategies for STIs and other diseases, the authors said.