Seminal fluid and fertility in women

Fertil Steril. 2016 Sep 1;106(3):511-9. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2016.07.1101. Epub 2016 Jul 30.


Seminal fluid is often viewed as simply a vehicle to carry sperm to fertilize the oocyte, but a more complex function in influencing female reproductive physiology is now evident. Remarkably, seminal fluid contains soluble and exosome-born signaling agents that interact with the female reproductive tract to prime the immune response, with consequences for fertility and pregnancy outcome. Experiments in rodent models demonstrate a key role for seminal fluid in enabling robust embryo implantation and optimal placental development. In particular, seminal fluid promotes leukocyte recruitment and generation of regulatory T cells, which facilitate embryo implantation by suppressing inflammation, assisting uterine vascular adaptation, and sustaining tolerance of fetal antigens. There is emerging evidence of comparable effects in women, where seminal fluid provokes an adaptive immune response in the cervical tissues after contact at intercourse, and spermatozoa accessing the higher tract potentially affect the endometrium directly. These biological responses may have clinical significance, explaining why [1] intercourse in IVF ET cycles improves the likelihood of pregnancy, [2] inflammatory disorders of gestation are more common in women who conceive after limited exposure to seminal fluid of the prospective father, and [3] preeclampsia incidence is elevated after use of donor oocytes or donor sperm where prior contact with conceptus alloantigens has not occurred. It will be important to define the mechanisms through which seminal fluid interacts with female reproductive tissues, to provide knowledge that may assist in preconception planning and infertility treatment.

Keywords: Seminal plasma; Treg cells; immune tolerance; implantation; preeclampsia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Embryo Implantation / immunology*
  • Female
  • Fertility / immunology*
  • Histocompatibility, Maternal-Fetal*
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance*
  • Infertility / immunology
  • Infertility / physiopathology
  • Infertility / therapy
  • Isoantigens / immunology
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / immunology
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology
  • Pregnancy Complications / prevention & control
  • Reproductive Techniques, Assisted / adverse effects
  • Semen / immunology*
  • Semen / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / metabolism
  • Uterus / immunology*
  • Uterus / metabolism


  • Isoantigens