SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ AIDS researchers have achieved promising results by targeting human hormones instead of the virus, and medical experts are calling for more experiments.

Research teams in the United States and France have looked at the role of cortisol, a hormone produced in the adrenal gland that ordinarily helps fight stress.

But in AIDS patients, cortisol seems to help the virus reach cells and may aggravate AIDS symptoms by suppressing a victim's immune response.

Excess cortisol has already been linked with chronic fatigue syndrome and certain kinds of depression.

``This is an interesting venue to go down for AIDS therapy,'' says Carl Dieffenbach, a top AIDS research official at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. ``There are clinical syndromes associated with the overproduction of cortisol. It makes sense logically.''

Drugs that regulate cortisol and related hormones have been tested in recent trials with positive results.

A University of Pennsylvania study released in April found that the anti-cortisol drug RU-486 _ better known as the ``abortion pill'' _ blocks an HIV protein that uses cortisol receptors in a cell to infiltrate it and churn out copies of the virus.

Production of the AIDS virus decreased by 70 percent in treated cells.

``I think this is a novel pathway and it could be very interesting,'' said pathologist David Weiner, the study's author and a leading AIDS researcher.

In France, a Rene Descartes University study finished in October 1994 found that using the hormone-regulating drug prednisolone raised the level of disease-fighting CD4 T cells within two weeks.

Another leading researcher, Dr. Irving Chen, head of the AIDS program at the University of California at Los Angeles, said the findings fit in with the new approach to fighting the disease.

``All the drugs currently out are directed against the virus itself, and the AIDS virus mutates rapidly and gets around these drugs,'' he said. ``If you have a drug that acts directly on the cell instead of the virus, there's less chance HIV can get around it.''

Later this year, the Brazilian government is expected to approve widespread use of an anti-cortisol drug called Anticort and developed by Dr. Alfred Sapse, a former UCLA researcher who now runs his own company in Nevada and mails his unapproved product to AIDS patients.

Sapse had predicted success with RU-486 before Weiner's study. He has long claimed that overproduction of cortisol lies behind many ills, including AIDS.

``Ninety percent of the damage in AIDS cases is caused by cortisol,'' Sapse insists.

Sapse is negotiating with the Food and Drug Administration to conduct U.S. clinical trials with Anticort to treat AIDS-related anemia.