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J Immunol. 2012 Mar 1;188(5):2445-54. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1102736. Epub 2012 Jan 23.

Seminal fluid induces leukocyte recruitment and cytokine and chemokine mRNA expression in the human cervix after coitus.

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  • 1The Robinson Institute, School of Paediatrics and Reproductive Health, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia 5005, Australia.


In mice, seminal fluid elicits an inflammation-like response in the female genital tract that activates immune adaptations to advance the likelihood of conception and pregnancy. In this study, we examined whether similar changes in leukocyte and cytokine parameters occur in the human cervix in response to the male partner's seminal fluid. After a period of abstinence in proven-fertile women, duplicate sets of biopsies were taken from the ectocervix in the periovulatory period and again 48 h later, 12 h after unprotected vaginal coitus, vaginal coitus with use of a condom, or no coitus. A substantial influx of CD45(+) cells mainly comprising CD14(+) macrophages and CD1a(+) dendritic cells expressing CD11a and MHC class II was evident in both the stratified epithelium and deeper stromal tissue after coitus. CD3(+)CD8(+)CD45RO(+) T cells were also abundant and increased after coitus. Leukocyte recruitment did not occur without coitus or with condom-protected coitus. An accompanying increase in CSF2, IL6, IL8, and IL1A expression was detected by quantitative RT-PCR, and microarray analysis showed genes linked with inflammation, immune response, and related pathways are induced by seminal fluid in cervical tissues. We conclude that seminal fluid introduced at intercourse elicits expression of proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines, and a robust recruitment of macrophages, dendritic cells, and memory T cells. The leukocyte and cytokine environment induced in the cervix by seminal fluid appears competent to initiate adaptations in the female immune response that promote fertility. This response is also relevant to transmission of sexually transmitted pathogens and potentially, susceptibility to cervical metaplasia.

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