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Front Med (Lausanne). 2018 Jan 4;4:239. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2017.00239. eCollection 2017.

Immunological Tolerance, Pregnancy, and Preeclampsia: The Roles of Semen Microbes and the Father.

Kenny LC1,2,3, Kell DB4,5.

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The Irish Centre for Fetal and Neonatal Translational Research (INFANT), University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland.
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom.
School of Chemistry, The University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom.
The Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, The University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom.


Although it is widely considered, in many cases, to involve two separable stages (poor placentation followed by oxidative stress/inflammation), the precise originating causes of preeclampsia (PE) remain elusive. We have previously brought together some of the considerable evidence that a (dormant) microbial component is commonly a significant part of its etiology. However, apart from recognizing, consistent with this view, that the many inflammatory markers of PE are also increased in infection, we had little to say about immunity, whether innate or adaptive. In addition, we focused on the gut, oral and female urinary tract microbiomes as the main sources of the infection. We here marshall further evidence for an infectious component in PE, focusing on the immunological tolerance characteristic of pregnancy, and the well-established fact that increased exposure to the father's semen assists this immunological tolerance. As well as these benefits, however, semen is not sterile, microbial tolerance mechanisms may exist, and we also review the evidence that semen may be responsible for inoculating the developing conceptus (and maybe the placenta) with microbes, not all of which are benign. It is suggested that when they are not, this may be a significant cause of PE. A variety of epidemiological and other evidence is entirely consistent with this, not least correlations between semen infection, infertility and PE. Our view also leads to a series of other, testable predictions. Overall, we argue for a significant paternal role in the development of PE through microbial infection of the mother via insemination.


dormancy; immunology; infection; microbes; preeclampsia; semen

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