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PLoS One. 2008 Jun 4;3(6):e2308. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002308.

Topical oestrogen keratinises the human foreskin and may help prevent HIV infection.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Abstract

With the growing incidence of HIV, there is a desperate need to develop simple, cheap and effective new ways of preventing HIV infection. Male circumcision reduces the risk of infection by about 60%, probably because of the removal of the Langerhans cells which are abundant in the inner foreskin and are the primary route by which HIV enters the penis. Langerhans cells form a vital part of the body's natural defence against HIV and only cause infection when they are exposed to high levels of HIV virions. Rather than removing this natural defence mechanism by circumcision, it may be better to enhance it by thickening the layer of keratin overlying the Langerhans cells, thereby reducing the viral load to which they are exposed. We have investigated the ability of topically administered oestrogen to induce keratinization of the epithelium of the inner foreskin. Histochemically, the whole of the foreskin is richly supplied with oestrogen receptors. The epithelium of the inner foreskin, like the vagina, responds within 24 hours to the topical administration of oestriol by keratinization, and the response persists for at least 5 days after the cessation of the treatment. Oestriol, a cheap, readily available natural oestrogen metabolite, rapidly keratinizes the inner foreskin, the site of HIV entry into the penis. This thickening of the overlying protective layer of keratin should reduce the exposure of the underlying Langerhans cells to HIV virions. This simple treatment could become an adjunct or alternative to surgical circumcision for reducing the incidence of HIV infection in men.

PMID:
18523637
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC2396280
Free PMC Article

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