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Microbes Infect. 2005 Aug-Sep;7(11-12):1217-23.

Cortisol and susceptibility to malaria during pregnancy.

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Medical Research Unit, Albert Schweitzer Hospital, Lambaréné, Gabon.


We measured cortisol and prolactin concentrations in the peripheral venous blood of 23 non-pregnant and 59 pregnant Gabonese women from the second trimester of pregnancy until delivery. Cortisol concentrations were significantly higher in primigravidae women than in multigravidae women between 20 and 25 weeks' gestational age (166 vs. 132 ng/ml, respectively), between 28 and 37 weeks (226 vs. 161 ng/ml) and at delivery (287 vs. 188 ng/ml). Conversely, plasma prolactin levels were highest in multigravidae women. Cortisol and prolactin concentrations both increased with the period of pregnancy (P = 0.01 and P < 0.01, respectively), suggesting that a sustained increase in cortisol level underlies the increased susceptibility of pregnant women, particularly primigravidae women, to malaria. In support of this hypothesis, we found a significant association between cortisol concentration and Plasmodium falciparum infection, on the one hand, and strong correlations with parasite load in P. falciparum-infected primigravidae women, on the other hand (rho between 0.35 and 0.45 with P < 0.01).

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