Even with antiretroviral therapy, children born to HIV-infected (HI) mothers are at a higher risk of early-life infections and morbidities including dental disease. The increased risk of dental caries in HI children suggest immune-mediated changes in oral bacterial communities, however, the impact of perinatal HIV exposure on the oral microbiota remains unclear. We hypothesized that the oral microbiota of HI and perinatally HIV-exposed-but-uninfected (HEU) children will significantly differ from HIV-unexposed-and-uninfected (HUU) children. Saliva samples from 286 child-participants in Nigeria, aged ≤ 6 years, were analyzed using 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Perinatal HIV infection was significantly associated with community composition (HI vs. HUU—p = 0.04; HEU vs. HUU—p = 0.11) however, immune status had stronger impacts on bacterial profiles (p < 0.001). We observed age-stratified associations of perinatal HIV exposure on community composition, with HEU children differing from HUU children in early life but HEU children becoming more similar to HUU children with age. Our findings suggest that, regardless of age, HIV infection or exposure, low CD4 levels persistently alter the oral microbiota during this critical developmental period. Data also indicates that, while HIV infection clearly shapes the developing infant oral microbiome, the effect of perinatal exposure (without infection) appears transient.
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