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Vet Res. 2006 May-Jun;37(3):295-309. Epub 2006 Mar 9.

Immunity in the female sheep reproductive tract.

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  • 1Moredun Research Institute, Pentlands Science Park, Bush Loan, Edinburgh EH26 0PZ, United Kingdom.


Immune surveillance in the female reproductive tract is dependent on the interplay of many factors that include the expression of pattern recognition receptors on epithelial cells, resident leukocyte populations and hormones, none of which are uniform. The lower reproductive tract must accommodate the presence of commensal organisms whereas the upper reproductive tract is sterile. However, the upper female reproductive tract has its own immunological challenge in that it must tolerate the presence of a semi-allogeneic fetus if pregnancy is to succeed. So, immune activation and effector mechanisms to control pathogens may be qualitatively and quantitatively different along the reproductive tract. Our knowledge of innate and adaptive immunity in the sheep is less comprehensive than that of human or mouse. Nevertheless, comparative studies suggest that there are likely to be conserved innate immune sensory mechanisms (e.g. Toll-like receptors) and defence mechanisms (anti-proteases, defensins) that combine to limit infection in its early stages while shaping the adaptive response that leads to immunological memory and long-term protection. There are many pathogens that target the reproductive tract, and in particular the placenta, where specialised immunoregulatory mechanisms are operational. Among such pathogens are bacteria belonging to the genera Chlamydia/Chlamydophila that chronically infect the reproductive tracts of sheep and humans and ultimately cause disease through inflammation and tissue damage. An understanding of the immunological microenvironment of the reproductive tract is important for the design of novel control strategies to control chlamydial disease.

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