Problem: Antibodies and antibody-producing cells display a different and characteristic distribution in body fluids and tissues.
Method: We have investigated the tissues of the female reproductive tract to determine whether the distribution of immunoglobulin-producing cells and the contents of cervical secretions were similar to those found in tissues of the secretory immune system.
Results: Immunohistochemical examinations of female genital tissues revealed the presence of plasma cells that secrete IgA (and in lower numbers IgM and IgG) especially in the subepithelial layers of the uterine endo- and ectocervix, fallopian tubes, and vagina. Both IgA1- and IgA2-producing plasma cells were found in approximately equal proportions. The presence of J-chain in the IgA-secreting cells suggests the synthesis of polymeric IgA (pIgA). Epithelial cells lining the fallopian tube and endocervix were positive for secretory component (SC), which is required for the transepithelial transport of pIgA into external secretions. Cervical mucus was collected and the molecular forms of IgA were separated using column chromatography. Approximately 80% of IgA in cervical mucus was polymeric compared with 55% in the vaginal fluid.
Conclusions: These data indicate that all effector components of the mucosal immune system are present in the female reproductive tract. The immunization routes that lead to a secretory IgA (S-IgA) response need to be further explored.