Objective: Our objective was to evaluate the presence of asymptomatic Chlamydia trachomatis infection by means of the polymerase chain reaction in male members of couples with previously undiagnosed infertility.
Study design: Twenty-eight infertile-couples who had negative cultures or negative results when tested by deoxyribonucleic acid probe for Chlamydia trachomatis in semen and cervical samples were studied. Semen samples were tested for Chlamydia trachomatis by means of the polymerase chain reaction. Sera from both partners were diluted 1:128 and tested for immunoglobulin M antibodies to Chlamydia. Sera and ejaculated sperm were evaluated for the presence of antisperm antibodies. Semen analyses were also performed.
Results: Chlamydia trachomatis was identified in semen from 11 (39.3%) of the male partners. Its detection correlated with the presence in the ejaculate of motile sperm containing antisperm antibodies (p < 0.01). Either antisperm immunoglobulin G, immunoglobulin A, or both were located on sperm only from 5 (45.5%) of the 11 men whose results were positive when tested for Chlamydia trachomatis. Similarly, immunoglobulin G or immunoglobulin A antibodies to sperm were only detected in 5 (45.5%) of the spouses of men with Chlamydia in semen. Immunoglobulin M antibody to Chlamydia trachomatis was identified in only one of the men. However, antichlamydial immunoglobulin M antibodies were present in sera from 6 (54.5%) female partners of men with seminal Chlamydia trachomatis but in none of the other 17 women (p < 0.01).
Conclusion: Although undetected by culture of deoxyribonucleic acid probe of semen samples, Chlamydia trachomatis was nevertheless identified in semen of some symptom-free men by the polymerase chain reaction. This is probably a result of the increased sensitivity of the polymerase chain reaction to detect Chlamydia trachomatis. The increased prevalence of an autoimmune response to sperm in men with this organism in their semen suggests that a subclinical chlamydial infection may activate an immune response to sperm. A similar association between Chlamydia trachomatis in semen and circulating antisperm antibodies in female partners indicates that Chlamydia may also induce an immune response to sperm in women. Infertility in these couples may be the result of a direct inflammatory response in the cervix or endometrium to repeated Chlamydia exposure or of the ability of Chlamydia to evoke an immune response to spermatozoa.