While there has been great progress in treating HIV-1 infection, preventing transmission has thus far proven an elusive goal. Indeed, recent trials of a candidate vaccine and microbicide have been disappointing, both for want of efficacy and concerns about increased rates of transmission. Nonetheless, studies of vaginal transmission in the SIV-rhesus macaque model point to opportunities in the earliest stages of infection where a vaccine or microbicide might be protective, by limiting the expansion of infected founder populations at the portal of entry. Here we show in this SIV-macaque model, that an outside-in endocervical mucosal signalling system, involving MIP-3α, plasmacytoid dendritic cells and CCR5+cell-attracting chemokines produced by these cells, in combination with the innate immune and inflammatory responses to infection in both cervix and vagina, recruit CD4+T cells to fuel this obligate expansion. We then show that glycerol monolaurate, a widely used antimicrobial compound with inhibitory activity against production of MIP-3α and other proinflammatory cytokines, can inhibit mucosal signalling and the innate and inflammatory response to HIV-1 and SIV in vitro, and in vivo can protect rhesus macaques from acute infection despite repeated intra-vaginal exposure to high doses of SIV. This novel approach, plausibly linked to interfering with innate host responses that recruit the target cells necessary to establish systemic infection, opens a promising new avenue for development of effective interventions to block HIV-1 mucosal transmission.