Maternal serum vitamin A levels are not associated with mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 in the United States

Harold Burger, Andrea Kovacs, Barbara Weiser, Roger Grimson, Sharon Nachman, Pamela Tropper, Ariëtte M. Van Bennekum, Marie C. Elie, William S. Blaner

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55 Scopus citations


HIV-1 transmission from mother to child has been associated with maternal vitamin A status in studies of women living in Africa. This finding has raised the question of whether vitamin A supplementation might help reduce transmission in the United States as well as worldwide. In industrialized nations, however, both the vitamin A nutritional status of HIV-1-infected pregnant women and the association of vitamin A levels with vertical transmission were unknown. Furthermore, vitamin A is teratogenic, and supplements during pregnancy have caused birth defects. To investigate whether maternal serum levels of vitamin A (retinol) and three other micronutrients correlate with vertical transmission of HIV-1 in the United States, we studied 95 HIV-1-infected pregnant women and followed their infants to determine whether transmission occurred. Sera were obtained during the third trimester of pregnancy from 95 HIV-1-infected women living in the New York and Los Angeles metropolitan areas. The two cohorts were established to study vertical transmission of HIV-1 and to reflect the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic status of HIV-1-infected in women in the United States. We measured serum levels of vitamin A (retinol) and three other micronutrients, vitamin E (α-tocopherol), β-carotene, and lycopene, in the mothers using reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography and determined the HIV- 1 infection status of their infants using virus cultivation and polymerase chain reaction. Sixteen of the 95 women transmitted HIV-1 to their infants. Statistical analysis of the data indicated that low maternal serum retinol levels during the third trimester of pregnancy were not associated with mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1. None of the women had retinol levels so low as to have clinical symptoms of vitamin A deficiency. The serum levels of α-tocopherol, β-carotene, and lycopene, three micronutrients that act as anti-oxidants and enhance immune function, were also measured. Statistical analysis of the data revealed no association of the levels of these three micronutrients with vertical transmission of HIV-1. Analysis of the data obtained from 95 women in the United States indicates that vitamin A deficiency is rare, and serum retinol levels are not associated with risk of vertical HIV-1 transmission. In view of the teratogenic effects of vitamin A when taken as supplement during pregnancy, pregnant HIV-1-infected women living in nations where vitamin A deficiency is not a public health problems should not be advised to take extra vitamin A supplements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-326
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and Human Retrovirology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 1997



  • Obstetrics
  • Vertical transmission
  • Women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Virology

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