The epigenetics of the spermatozoa of HIV-I infected men

Cooperating countries: Nigeria and Austria

Coordinating institution: Medical University Vienna, Dr. Mark Wossidlo,

Partner institution: University of Lagos

Project duration: 1 June 2021 - 31 May 2023

HIV (Human immunodeficiency virus) is still a global concern of all nations worldwide with estimated 38.0 million infected people up-to-date. Nigeria has the second largest HIV epidemic in the world with still many AIDS-related deaths (150.000 in 2017). Efforts have been made to scale-up treatment access to combined antiretroviral treatment (cART), which enables people to turn HIV into a manageable chronic health condition with a long and healthy life. In recent years a not well-understood decline in fertility of HIV-I positive men undergoing cART are a great concern for HIV treatment. Recent studies detected epigenetic abnormalities in blood of HIV-I patients undergoing cART, where it is not clear if cART could be the cause of these changes. Wrong establishment of DNA methylation, a well-studied epigenetic mark highly present in the sperm genome, can lead to the manifestation of epimutations. Epimutations, which are mutations in the epigenetic code, have the potential to be inherited to the offspring and even future generations with potentially bad consequences like early embryo-loss, diseases and cancerogenesis. The aim of this new collaboration between Austria and Nigeria is to determine the impact of cART on the DNA methylome in the spermatozoa of HIV-I infected men. This call will allow us to conduct a first pilot study including semen collection, DNA extraction, and profiling of base-resolution DNA methylation changes to elucidate epigenetic changes in sperm of HIV-I positive men undergoing cART, potentially determining the cause of fertility decline. This study will contribute to the health education about HIV and its treatment, boosting the reproductive health and well-being of men living with HIV and improving the compliance of HIV-infected men to antiretroviral therapy. In addition, by also organising a pilot workshop on basic epigenetics in Nigeria, this study will foster research and teaching collaborations between Austria and Nigeria in epigenetic mechanisms in development and disease, and also several infectious diseases and non- communicable diseases (NCD) that are of global importance.