Question Corner Health

Why is it that sperms are not considered foreign (antigens) by the immune system of women?



V. Kalpana, Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Sperms are foreign to both the man who produces them and the woman who receives them. In healthy men, sperms do not come in contact with blood. The blood-testis barrier formed by the Sertoli cells in the testes keeps the sperm away from the blood stream.

Breach of this barrier, as in the case of infections or injury, may lead to the formation of anti-sperm antibodies in men. Besides, semen also contains immune-suppressive agents secreted by seminal vesicles (accessory structure).

Like in the case of men, the sperms do not come in contact with blood once deposited in the vagina. Hence, no immune response against the sperms is caused in the woman. In normal women, sperms are deposited in the vagina and they gain access to the cervix and uterus within minutes. The acidic environment in the vagina kills the remaining sperms.

Some women do develop antibodies to sperm. In 25 per cent of infertile women and even in some fertile/pregnant women anti-sperm antibodies are demonstrable. Why some women develop anti-sperm antibodies, and others do not, is difficult to explain.

The possible explanations are: (1) The breach of the blood tissue barrier in the women as occurs in vaginal injuries and possible exposure of the women to sperms in sufficient quantities and (2) Each woman's immune response is individualistic and varies from person to person.

Though the precise role of anti-sperm antibodies in causation of infertility is not clear, there is no evidence to indicate that anti sperm antibodies are the cause.

Dr. N. Pandian, Chief Consultant in Andrology and Reproductive Medicine, Chettinad Hospital and Research Institute, Chennai, Tamil Nadu

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2021 6:32:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/why-is-it-that-sperms-are-not-considered-foreign-by-the-immune-system-of-women/article7569255.ece

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