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Pregnancy Hormone May Help Fight HIV

By Wayne Little

An animal study at the National Institute of Dental Research has produced intriguing evidence that a pregnancy hormone may protect the developing fetus from the ravages of the human immunodeficiency virus, HIV. The study also points to a potential role for the hormone in fighting HIV-related wasting.

The hormone in question is human chorionic gonadotropin -- hCG. Normally produced by the placenta to help maintain pregnancy, hCG is the hormone that produces a positive pregnancy test.

The possible connection between hCG and HIV was studied in a special strain of transgenic mice. The mice had been engineered to contain an incomplete set of HIV genes in the DNA of every cell in their bodies. The virus could not reproduce, but could trick certain mouse cells into making many of the viral proteins. Baby mice that inherit HIV DNA from each transgenic parent eventually accumulate enough viral protein that they develop skin lesions, wasting syndrome, and die within 3 to 6 weeks.

Dr. Swapan De, a member of the NIDR research team, examines the effect of human chorionic gonadotropin in HIV gene expression.

However, when the mice were treated with hCG, the majority of the animals showed normal weight gain as long as they were receiving the hormone. Furthermore, their cells produced considerably less viral protein than animals not receiving hormone treatment, and skin lesions were dramatically reduced. The study appeared in the Apr. 2 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The results of this study could have implications in treating human HIV infection, according to Dr. Abner Notkins, who directed the research. "Human chorionic gonadotropin may be another weapon to use against HIV. The hormone may be one of the factors that protects the fetus during pregnancy, and also could have potential for treating HIV-associated wasting syndrome in children and adults."

Cystic Fibrosis Test Should Be Option

An independent consensus panel convened by NIH has recommended that testing for gene mutations that cause cystic fibrosis be offered as an option to all pregnant couples and those planning pregnancy. The panel said that individuals with a family history of the disease and partners of people with cystic fibrosis also should be offered genetic testing. The panel further recommended that insurance cover the procedure in all of these populations.

Because the risk of cystic fibrosis is low in the general population and interest in testing is limited, the panel did not advocate genetic testing for this group. Also, the panel did not endorse genetic testing of newborns for cystic fibrosis because current research does not yet show a benefit.

"As more and more genetic tests for a variety of diseases become available, it is important for both health care providers and patients to understand the limitations and implications of such tests," said panel chair Dr. R. Rodney Howell of the University of Miami School of Medicine. "Our recommendations for cystic fibrosis testing may serve as a guide for the complex testing issues that will undoubtedly arise with other inherited diseases."

More than 25,000 Americans have cystic fibrosis, the most common inherited disorder in people of Northern European descent.

The full consensus statement on genetic testing for cystic fibrosis is available on the NIH Consensus Web site at

Diet Alone Can Lower Blood Pressure

A diet low in fat and high in vegetables, fruits and low fat dairy foods significantly and quickly lowers blood pressure, according to a nationwide trial supported by NHLBI, NCRR and the Office of Research on Minority Health.

The diet worked especially well for those with high blood pressure, producing reductions similar to those from single-drug therapy. But it also proved effective for those with high normal blood pressure, who are at substantial risk of developing hypertension.

The blood pressure reductions occurred without changes in weight, or alcohol or sodium consumption.

Results from the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension trial appeared in the Apr. 17 New England Journal of Medicine.

The other lifestyle recommendations are to maintain a healthy weight, choose foods lower in salt and sodium, drink alcohol in moderation (for those who drink) and be physically active.

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