(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Previous research has shown circumcised men are less likely to be infected with HIV, and a new study helps explain why.
British researchers examined tissue samples from nine specimens of human foreskin. They found each sample contained cells expressing the protein DC-SIGN, which contains receptors that make it easier for HIV to enter cells, indicating foreskin may play a key role in disease transmission.
Researchers say their study was limited due to a lack of availability of suitable tissue. They write, "Biopsies of the penis are rarely taken, and most studies to date have used material from circumcisions. However, if human tissue were available, population studies correlating levels of DC-SIGN expression in the penis with HIV transmission rates could provide crucially important data." They say these types of studies should be performed in both circumcised and uncircumcised men.
HIV is a virus that infects and destroys T-cells in the immune system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are between 800,000 and 900,000 people living with HIV.
Authors of the study say their results suggest that the human foreskin is important in mediating the sexual transmission of HIV. They conclude, "We suggest that DC-SIGN may contribute to HIV transmission in the foreskin by enabling the infection of permissive cells."
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SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Pathology, 2004;57:77-78