Dr. Charu Kaushic’s lab focuses on understanding the microenvironment of the female genital tract and its interaction with sexually transmitted pathogens and the immune system. They currently focus on two sexually transmitted viral pathogens: herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) and human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1).
Using a mouse model of genital herpes, the Kaushic Lab has shown that the female sex hormones estradiol and progesterone have a profound effect on the outcome of primary infection with HSV-2, as well as in vaccinated mice following challenge with wild type virus. Current efforts focus on examining the mechanism by which hormones affect the local environment and initiation of immune responses to alter changes in susceptibility and the outcome of infection.
The Kaushic Lab has developed an in vitro model using primary cell cultures from the reproductive tracts of women that mimics the conditions in vivo. Using this model, they examine the interactions of genital epithelial cells to HIV-1. They are now developing this system as an ex-vivo model of heterosexual transmission, using semen from HIV-infected men to infect the primary genital epithelial cells. Concurrently, they are trying to understand how sex hormones and other co-infections may affect the interaction of HIV with genital tract cells. They are also initiating clinical studies in HIV-infected women to examine the effect of co-infection with HSV-2 on genital viral shedding and its influence on the menstrual cycle.