Mucosal immunity in the female genital tract

J Reprod Immunol. 1997 Nov 30;36(1-2):23-50. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0378(97)00061-2.


Immunoglobulin (Ig)-producing cells in mucosal tissues represent quantitatively the most important humoral immune system of the body. All exocrine tissue sites contain immunocytes (B-cell blasts and plasma cells) that mainly synthesize dimers and larger polymers of IgA (collectively called pIgA) with incorporated J chain. Such pIgA is actively transported to external secretions as secretory IgA (SIgA) by the polymeric Ig receptor (pIgR), a transmembrane epithelial glycoprotein also called the secretory component (SC). The same transport mechanism includes pentameric IgM to generate SIgM. Although the most active SIgA system occurs in the gut, secretory immunity also operates in the female genital tract, with considerable pIgA production in the cervical mucosa and fallopian tubes. The origin of these local IgA immunocytes remains undefined. In mice, both lymphoid tissue in the large bowel (GALT) and nasopharynx (NALT) have been suggested as inductive sites for B cells homing to the urogenital tract. It is well established that integrin alpha 4 beta 7 is used by primed lymphoid cells to enter the intestinal lamina propria through interactions with mucosal addressin cell adhesion molecule (MAdCAM)-1 expressed on venule endothelium. However, alpha 4 beta 7 does not appear to be an important homing molecule in the airways, and the same might be true for the urogenital tract; this could explain that high levels of IgA antibodies occur in cervicovaginal secretions of mice after nasal immunization. The endometrium can likewise perform pIgR-mediated external translocation of pIgA that in this tissue appears to be mainly derived from serum, partly under hormonal regulation. In addition, paracellular diffusion of serum-derived and locally produced IgG through epithelia is an important part of humoral immunity in the female genital tract.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Genitalia, Female / immunology*
  • HLA-DR Antigens / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Mucosal*
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory / metabolism
  • Immunoglobulin G / metabolism
  • Immunoglobulin M / metabolism
  • Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Pregnancy
  • Receptors, Polymeric Immunoglobulin / metabolism
  • Secretory Component / metabolism


  • HLA-DR Antigens
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Immunoglobulin M
  • Receptors, Polymeric Immunoglobulin
  • Secretory Component