About AIDS

Pokeweed Protein Kills HIV Without Harming Sperm

A protein derived from pokeweed has researchers intrigued because it seems to have broad anti-viral properties, including against HIV, without injuring sperm or female genital tract epithelial cells. If it could be developed into a safe, non-spermicidal anti-viral treatment, it might allow pregnancy for women in couples where only the male partner is HIV-positive - without putting the mother and fetus at risk of HIV infection. Dubbed Pokeweed Antiviral Protein or PAP, it has shown anti-viral activity against a variety of viruses in the test tube, including HIV, herpes simplex virus (cold sores, genital blisters), and cytomegalovirus.

In vitro, PAP didn't impair the sperm's ability to move about (motility) or to fertilize an egg. Contrary to many other substances that have been investigated, PAP didn't seem to damage female genital tract epithelial cells either. In addition, it had no adverse effects on pregnancy outcome in test rabbits, including gestation length, pregnancy rate, perinatal outcome, or growth and development of the offspring.

Pokeweed is a common, somewhat poisonous, plant found throughout much of the United States, including here in Central Texas. Despite its name being a setup for punny jokes about sex acts, if pokeweed gives us a useful compound for a vaginal gel microbicide, that will be a major step forward in combatting HIV and other viral STDs.

For details, see the journal Fertility & Sterility (Jan 2001; 75:106-114).

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