Assessment of the vaginal residence time of biomarkers of semen exposure

Contraception. 2016 Nov;94(5):512-520. doi: 10.1016/j.contraception.2016.05.012. Epub 2016 May 31.


Objective: The primary objective of this pilot study is to determine and compare the residence time in the vagina of biomarkers of semen exposure for up to 15 days post exposure. The biomarkers are prostate-specific antigen (PSA), Y chromosome DNA, the sex determining region of the Y chromosome (SRY) and testis-specific protein Y-encoded 4 (TSPY4). The secondary objectives are to determine if biomarker concentrations differed between intercourse and inoculation groups, to establish whether the sampling frequency post exposure affected biomarker concentrations and decay profile and to determine if biomarker concentrations in vaginal swabs obtained by the participant at home were similar to swabs obtained by the nurse in the clinic.

Study design: We randomized healthy women to unprotected intercourse (n=17) versus vaginal inoculation with the male partner's semen in the clinic (n=16). Women were then further randomized to have vaginal swabs obtained at either 7 or 4 time points after semen exposure, up to 15 days post exposure, either obtained at home by the participant or in the clinic by the research nurse.

Results: PSA and SRY were markers of recent semen exposure. TSPY4 was detectable in approximately 50% of participants at 15 days post exposure. Unprotected intercourse resulted in significantly higher concentrations of select biomarkers. Sampling frequency and home versus clinic sampling had no significant effect on biomarker concentrations.

Conclusions: Objective biomarkers of recent or distant semen exposure may have great utility for verifying protocol compliance in a variety of clinical trials.

Trial registration: NCT00984555.

Keywords: Biomarker; Clinical trials; Semen; Y chromosome.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / analysis*
  • Chromosomes, Human, Y
  • Coitus
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / analysis*
  • Semen / physiology*
  • Sex-Determining Region Y Protein / analysis*
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Time Factors
  • Vagina / physiology*


  • Biomarkers
  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Sex-Determining Region Y Protein
  • TSPY4 protein, human
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen

Associated data