The ovary as an immune target

J Soc Gynecol Investig. 2001 Jan-Feb;8(1 Suppl Proceedings):S43-8. doi: 10.1016/s1071-5576(00)00107-6.


The ovary does not have a distinct morphologic barrier between the immune system and the developing gametes. This is in contrast to the testis in which the junctional complexes between the Sertoli cells form the blood-testis barrier. Whereas there are numerous factors, including genetic ones, associated with ovarian dysfunction, the immune factors have frequently been implicated in ovarian dysfunction. Much of our knowledge used to evaluate the immune system of the ovary has come from studies on the expression of the zona pellucida (ZP) proteins during ovarian development. Initial studies by Dunbar and colleagues demonstrated that immunization of rabbits with porcine ZP proteins (but not rabbit ZP proteins) would result in the generation of antibodies that inhibit sperm binding to the ZP and interfere with normal ovarian follicular development. In contrast to the rabbit and primate models, immunization of mice or rats with porcine ZP proteins does not have an effect on fertility or ovarian function although immunization of certain strains of mice with mouse ZP peptides and immune activator systems has been shown to result in ovarian pathology. Whereas immune inflammatory reactions have been observed in the mouse models, no such immune reactions have been observed in rabbit, guinea pig, or nonhuman primate models. Subsequent observations in nonhuman primates have shown that immunization of primates with ZP proteins expressed from cDNAs coding for the mouse and rabbit ZP2 (the mouse homologue has 60% amino acid identity with human ZP2) or the mouse ZP3 (the mouse protein has 67% amino acid identity with human ZP3) causes ovarian dysgenesis. In contrast, immunization of primates with recombinant rabbit ZP1 protein (the mouse homologue has 39% amino acid identity with human ZP1) does not affect nonhuman primate ovarian function or follicular development but will elicit antibodies that inhibit sperm binding to the primate ZP. These studies have collectively provided important information concerning the immunologic status of the ovary and demonstrate the species variations in immune responses to different ovarian immunogens.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoantigens / immunology
  • Egg Proteins / immunology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity*
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / immunology
  • Ovarian Diseases / immunology
  • Ovary / growth & development
  • Ovary / immunology*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface*
  • Zona Pellucida / immunology
  • Zona Pellucida Glycoproteins


  • Autoantigens
  • Egg Proteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • ZP1 protein, human
  • ZP2 protein, human
  • ZP3 protein, human
  • Zona Pellucida Glycoproteins
  • Zp1 protein, mouse
  • Zp2 protein, mouse
  • Zp3 protein, mouse