Foreskin Acts as AIDS Magnet

Finding May Explain Why Uncircumcised Men More Likely to Get HIV

From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 22, 2003 -- The foreskin of the penis is a magnet for HIV, British researchers report.

Uncircumcised men are at higher risk of getting the AIDS virus during sex than men who have had their foreskins removed. The new findings offer an explanation.

Elizabeth J. Soilleux, PhD, and Nicholas Coleman of the Hutchison/MRC Research Center in Cambridge, England, performed detailed studies on nine normal human foreskins.

In each, they found cells bearing the CD4 and CCR5 molecules that HIV loves to use as a doorway to infection. But they found something else, as well: A molecule called DC-SIGN. DC-SIGN is known to act as a chemical chaperone, capable of picking up HIV and carrying it inside cells.

"We suggest that DC-SIGN may contribute to HIV transmission in the foreskin by enabling the infection of permissive cells," Soilleux and Coleman conclude.

The researchers report their findings in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Pathology.

The finding is just circumstantial evidence. It doesn't actually prove that men with foreskins get HIV more easily. But studies of circumcised and uncircumcised men show that circumcision cuts a man's risk of getting the AIDS virus.

Even so, many circumcised men DO get HIV infection from unsafe sex. Circumcision is no substitute for safe sex.

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SOURCES: Soilleux, E.J. and Coleman, N. Journal of Clinical Pathology, January 2004; vol 57: pp 77-78.
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