Objective: 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. Methods: 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. Results: 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). Conclusions: 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.
ASJC Scopus subject areas