New study finds malaria could play key role in mother-to-child transmission of HIV in pregnancy

Yaound, Cameroon (17 November 2005)--Malaria infections boost production of a substance that might significantly increase HIV replication in the placenta. This interaction could explain why mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV in Yaound increases following a rainy season, according to new findings presented at this week's Fourth Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM) Pan-African Malaria Conference.

Laboratory tests have revealed that biological substances known as "proinflammatory cytokines", such as TNF-alpha, which is found in high levels in placentas infected with malaria, could stimulate HIV replication in the placenta.

"Our research highlights the fact that placental malaria, through the placental cytokine network, could play an important role in mother-to-child HIV transmission in utero that has been underestimated so far," said Anfumbom Kfutwah of the Pasteur Center's virology laboratory. (Thursday, 3:10 p.m., Ebony Hall, Parallel Session 26, Presentation 169)

He said scientists have been investigating a possible link between malaria and in utero HIV infections since a study conducted in Yaound, Cameroon found that MTCTs peaked three months after the rains peaked. Seasonal rains are known to bring an increase in malaria infections by providing the ideal breeding environment for mosquitoes that carry the disease.

Kfutwah will be discussing a study currently ongoing by scientists at Cameroon's Pasteur Center in collaboration with the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France, on placentas collected from women who were HIV positive and HIV negative, and with and without malaria. This study is investigating the expression of proinflammatory cytokines in relation to both pathogens.

Kfutwah said that further research needs to be done to better understand how the malaria parasite induces the inflammatory response that appears to interfere with the placenta's normal action to protect the fetus from infecti


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