High-Resolution Quantitative Mapping of Macaque Cervicovaginal Epithelial Thickness: Implications for Mucosal Vaccine Delivery

Kathleen L. Vincent, Patrice A. Frost, Massoud Motamedi, Edward J. Dick, Jingna Wei, Jinping Yang, Robert White, Marie Claire Gauduin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Vaginal mucosal surfaces naturally offer some protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including Human Immunodeficiency Virus-1, however topical preventative medications or vaccine designed to boost local immune responses can further enhance this protection. We previously developed a novel mucosal vaccine strategy using viral vectors integrated into mouse dermal epithelium to induce virus-specific humoral and cellular immune responses at the site of exposure. Since vaccine integration occurs at the site of cell replication (basal layer 100-400 micrometers below the surface), temporal epithelial thinning during vaccine application, confirmed with high resolution imaging, is desirable. In this study, strategies for vaginal mucosal thinning were evaluated noninvasively using optical coherence tomography (OCT) to map reproductive tract epithelial thickness (ET) in macaques to optimize basal layer access in preparation for future effective intravaginal mucosal vaccination studies. Twelve adolescent female rhesus macaques (5-7kg) were randomly assigned to interventions to induce vaginal mucosal thinning, including cytobrush mechanical abrasion, the chemical surfactant spermicide nonoxynol-9 (N9), the hormonal contraceptive depomedroxyprogesterone acetate (DMPA), or no intervention. Macaques were evaluated at baseline and after interventions using colposcopy, vaginal biopsies, and OCT imaging, which allowed for real-time in vivo visualization and measurement of ET of the mid-vagina, fornices, and cervix. P value ≤0.05 was considered significant. Colposcopy findings included pink, rugated tissue with variable degrees of white-tipped, thickened epithelium. Baseline ET of the fornices was thinner than the cervix and vagina (p<0.05), and mensing macaques had thinner ET at all sites (p<0.001). ET was decreased 1 month after DMPA (p<0.05) in all sites, immediately after mechanical abrasion (p<0.05) in the fornix and cervix, and after two doses of 4% N9 (1.25ml) applied over 14 hrs in the fornix only (p<0.001). Histological assessment of biopsied samples confirmed OCT findings. In summary, OCT imaging allowed for real time assessment of macaque vaginal ET. While varying degrees of thinning were observed after the interventions, limitations with each were noted. ET decreased naturally during menses, which may provide an ideal opportunity for accessing the targeted vaginal mucosal basal layers to achieve the optimum epithelial thickness for intravaginal mucosal vaccination.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number660524
JournalFrontiers in immunology
StatePublished - Jun 28 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • cervical epithelial thickness
  • depo medroxyprogesterone
  • high-resolution optical coherence tomography imaging
  • intravaginal
  • mucosal
  • nonoxynol-9
  • rhesus macaque
  • vaccine delivery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


Dive into the research topics of 'High-Resolution Quantitative Mapping of Macaque Cervicovaginal Epithelial Thickness: Implications for Mucosal Vaccine Delivery'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this