Progesterone-based contraceptives reduce adaptive immune responses and protection against sequential influenza A virus infections

Olivia J. Hall, Raffael Nachbagauer, Meghan S. Vermillion, Ashley L. Fink, Vanessa Phuong, Florian Krammer, Sabra L. Klein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


In addition to their intended use, progesterone (P4)-based contraceptives promote anti-inflammatory immune responses, yet their effects on the outcome of infectious diseases, including influenza A virus (IAV) infection, are rarely evaluated. To evaluate their impact on immune responses to sequential IAV infections, adult female mice were treated with placebo or one of two progestins, P4 or levonorgestrel (LNG), and infected with a mouse-adapted H1N1 (maH1N1) virus. Treatment with P4 or LNG reduced morbidity but had no effect on pulmonary virus titers during primary H1N1 infection compared to placebo treatment. In serum and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, total anti-IAV IgG and IgA titers and virus-neutralizing antibody titers but not hemagglutinin stalk antibody titers were lower in progestintreated mice than placebo-treated mice. Females were challenged 6 weeks later with either an maH1N1 drift variant (maH1N1dv) or maH3N2 IAV. The level of protection following infection with the maH1N1dv was similar among all groups. In contrast, following challenge with maH3N2, progestin treatment reduced survival as well as the numbers and activity of H1N1- and H3N2-specific memory CD8+ T cells, including tissue-resident cells, compared with placebo treatment. In contrast to primary IAV infection, progestin treatment increased the titers of neutralizing and IgG antibodies against both challenge viruses compared with those achieved with placebo treatment. While the immunomodulatory properties of progestins protected immunologically naive female mice from the severe outcomes from IAV infection, it made them more susceptible to secondary challenge with a heterologous IAV, despite improving their antibody responses against a secondary IAV infection. Taken together, the immunomodulatory effects of progestins differentially regulate the outcome of infection depending on exposure history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02160-16
JournalJournal of virology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • H1N1
  • H3N2
  • Levonorgestrel
  • Memory CD8 T cells
  • Memory CD8 T cells
  • Progesterone
  • Stalk antibody
  • Tissue-resident memory cells
  • Women's health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Insect Science
  • Virology


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