Men and women differ in their susceptibility to sexually transmittable infections (STIs) such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). However, a paucity of published information regarding the tissue structure of the human genital tract has limited our understanding of these gender differences. We collected cervical, vaginal, and penile tissues from human adult donors. Tissues were prepared with hematoxylin and eosin stains or immunofluorescence labeling of epithelial cell proteins and were analyzed for structural characteristics. Rhesus macaque genital tissues were evaluated to assess the use of this model for HIV/simian immunodeficiency virus transmission events. We found the stratified squamous epithelia of the male and female genital tract shared many similarities and important distinctions. Expression of E-cadherins, desmogleins 1/2, and involucrin was seen in all squamous epithelia, though expression patterns were heterogeneous. Filaggrin and a true cornified layer were markedly absent in female tissues but were clearly seen in all male epithelia. Desmogleins 1/2 were more consistent in the outermost strata of female squamous genital epithelia. Macaque tissues were similar to their respective human tissues. These initial observations highlight how male and female genital epithelia resemble and differ from one another. Further information regarding tissue structural characteristics will help to understand how STIs traverse these barriers to cause infection. This knowledge will be essential in future HIV pathogenesis, transmission, and prevention studies.
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Vol. 86 • No. 2