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Foreskin surface area is not associated with sub-preputial microbiome composition or penile cytokines
PLoS One (2020)
  • Godfrey Kigozi, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research
  • Cindy M. Liu
  • Daniel Park
  • Zoe R. Packman
  • Ronald H. Gray, Johns Hopkins University
  • Rupert Kaul, University of Toronto
  • Aaron A. R. Tobian, Johns Hopkins University
  • Alison G. Abraham, Johns Hopkins University
  • Joseph Ssekasanvu, Johns Hopkins University
  • Joseph Kagaayi, Uganda Virus Research Institute
  • Jessica Prodger, Western University
Male circumcision (MC) reduces acquisition of HIV-1 in heterosexual men by at least 60%, but the biological mechanism for this protection is incompletely understood. Previous studies have shown that a larger foreskin size, increased abundance of anaerobic bacteria in the sub-preputial space, and higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines on the penis are all prospectively associated with risk of HIV-1 acquisition. Since coverage of the glans on the non-erect penis is dependent on foreskin size, a larger foreskin could result in a less aerobic environment that might preferentially support anaerobic bacterial growth and induce inflammation. We therefore assessed the relationship between foreskin size, penile microbiome composition and local inflammation.

This is a retrospective, cross-sectional analysis of 82 HIV-uninfected men who participated in a randomized trial of MC for HIV-1 prevention in Rakai, Uganda between 2003–2006. Sub-preputial swabs were collected prior to MC and assessed for cytokines (multiplexed immunosorbent assay) and bacterial load (qPCR) and taxon abundance (sequencing). Foreskin size was measured immediately after MC.

Foreskin surface area did not correlate with total bacterial load (rho = 0.05) nor the abundance of key taxa of bacteria previously associated with HIV-1 risk (rho = 0.04–0.25). Foreskin surface area also did not correlate with sub-preputial cytokine concentrations previously associated with HIV-1 risk (IL-8 rho = 0.05).

Larger foreskin size is not associated with either increased penile anaerobes or pro-inflammatory cytokines. These data suggest that foreskin size does not increase HIV-1 risk through changes in penile microbiome composition or penile inflammation.
Publication Date
June 23, 2020
Citation Information
Godfrey Kigozi, Cindy M. Liu, Daniel Park, Zoe R. Packman, et al.. "Foreskin surface area is not associated with sub-preputial microbiome composition or penile cytokines" PLoS One (2020)
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