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AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 2002 Jul 20;18(11):797-803.

Seminal plasma induces programmed cell death in cultured peripheral blood mononuclear cells.

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  • 1Division of Urology, Department of Surgery, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Immunosuppressive properties of seminal plasma inhibit the recovery of infectious HIV from semen, and led to the view early in the pandemic that semen HIV was transmitted principally by infected semen cells. More recent studies have revealed significant titers of HIV RNA in seminal plasma, however, even from men receiving successful antiviral therapy. Thus, studies of infectious HIV in seminal plasma are important to understanding sexual transmission and response to therapy. The present studies were undertaken to determine whether seminal plasma immunosuppression is mediated by the induction of programmed cell death (PCD). Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were cultured without or with phytohemagglutinin and seminal plasma from normal donors, or men postvasectomy, or seminal vesicle protein collected at surgery. PBMC survival was measured at 3, 6, and 18 hr of culture; cells were examined for evidence of PCD by uptake of the fluorescent dye YO-PRO, and for fragmented nuclear DNA by the TUNEL assay. Approximately 90% of PBMCs cultured with seminal plasma from intact or vasectomized men were lost during 18 hr of culture; seminal vesicle protein did not induce cell loss. PCD assays were positive for PBMCs exposed to the seminal plasma, and negative for PBMCs cultured with seminal vesicle protein. Serum was not required for PCD induction. A 3-hr pulse with seminal plasma was sufficient to initiate PCD. These findings indicate that PCD induction accounts for the cytotoxic properties of semen, that the PCD is not the result of semen amine oxidases, and either that substances produced by seminal vesicles only at ejaculation, or by the prostate, are responsible for PCD induction.

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