The role of sex hormones in immune protection of the female reproductive tract

Nat Rev Immunol. 2015 Apr;15(4):217-30. doi: 10.1038/nri3819. Epub 2015 Mar 6.


Within the human female reproductive tract (FRT), the challenge of protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is coupled with the need to enable successful reproduction. Oestradiol and progesterone, which are secreted during the menstrual cycle, affect epithelial cells, fibroblasts and immune cells in the FRT to modify their functions and hence the individual's susceptibility to STIs in ways that are unique to specific sites in the FRT. The innate and adaptive immune systems are under hormonal control, and immune protection in the FRT varies with the phase of the menstrual cycle. Immune protection is dampened during the secretory phase of the cycle to optimize conditions for fertilization and pregnancy, which creates a 'window of vulnerability' during which potential pathogens can enter and infect the FRT.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endocrine System / physiology
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Genitalia, Female / cytology
  • Genitalia, Female / immunology*
  • Genitalia, Female / metabolism*
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Menstrual Cycle / metabolism
  • Mucous Membrane / immunology
  • Mucous Membrane / metabolism
  • Pregnancy


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones