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Maternal serum vitamin A levels are not associated with mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 in the United States.

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  • 1Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, Albany, USA.


HIV-1 transmission from mother to child has been associated with maternal vitamin A status in studies of women living in Africa. This finding has raised the question of whether vitamin A supplementation might help reduce transmission in the United States as well as worldwide. In industrialized nations, however, both the vitamin A nutritional status of HIV-1-infected pregnant women and the association of vitamin A levels with vertical transmission were unknown. Furthermore, vitamin A is teratogenic, and supplements during pregnancy have caused birth defects. To investigate whether maternal serum levels of vitamin A (retinol) and three other micronutrients correlate with vertical transmission of HIV-1 in the United State, we studied 95 HIV-1-infected pregnant women and followed their infants to determine whether transmission occurred. Sera were obtained during the third trimester of pregnancy from 95 HIV-1-infected women living in the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas. The two cohorts were established to study vertical transmission of HIV-1 and to reflect the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic status of HIV-1-infected in women in the United States. We measured serum levels of vitamin A (retinol) and three other micronutrients, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), beta-carotene, and lycopene, in the mothers using reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography and determined the HIV-1 infection status of their infants using virus cultivation and polymerase chain reaction. Sixteen of the 95 women transmitted HIV-1 to their infants. Statistical analysis of the data indicated that low maternal serum retinol levels during the third trimester of pregnancy were not associated with mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1. None of the women had retinol levels so low as to have clinical symptoms of vitamin A deficiency. The serum levels of alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, and lycopene, three micronutrients that act as antioxidants and enhance immune function, were also measured. Statistical analysis of the data revealed no association of the levels of these three micronutrients with vertical transmission of HIV-1. Analysis of the data obtained from 95 women in the United States indicates that vitamin A deficiency is rare, and serum retinol levels are not associated with risk of vertical HIV-1 transmission. In view of the teratogenic effects of vitamin A when taken as a supplement during pregnancy, pregnant HIV-1-infected women living in nations where vitamin A deficiency is not a public health problem should not be advised to take extra vitamin A supplements.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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