Immunological Infertility

Semen contains many antigens, including those in the seminal plasma and those that are spermatozoan bound. Spermatozoon antigens include spermatozoon-specific antigens, histocompatability antigens, blood-group antigens and other somatic tissue antigens. These antigens may be antigenic within the male system (autoantigenic) or within the female system (isoantigenic).

The autoantigenic effect is prevented from causing an autoimmune response by the Sertoli cells which form the blood-testis barrier within the testes. If this barrier is breached or incompetent then an autoimmune response will result, along with the destruction of spermatozoa (Jones, 1980; Wright, 1980). Such antibodies have been isolated in bull semen, but do not seem to have a direct correlation with breeding ability (Purswell et al., 1983). Such autoimmunity has been induced experimentally in stallions immunized with their own spermatozoa. It has, therefore, been suggested as a cause of idiopathic subfertility in stallions (Teuscher et al., 1994).

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