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Keywords:

  • cytokines: interleukins;
  • mucosal immunity;
  • reproductive immunology;
  • T cells

Summary

Insemination elicits inflammatory changes in female reproductive tissues, but whether this results in immunological priming to paternal antigens or influences pregnancy outcome is not clear. We have evaluated indices of lymphocyte activation in lymph nodes draining the uterus following allogeneic mating in mice and have investigated the significance of sperm and plasma constituents of semen in the response. At 4 days after mating, there was a 1ḃ7-fold increase in the cellularity of the para-aortic lymph node (PALN) compared with virgin controls. PALN lymphocytes were principally T and B lymphocytes, with smaller populations of CD3+ B220lo, NK1.1+ CD3 (NK) and NK1.1+ CD3+ (NKT) cells. CD69 expression indicative of activation was increased after mating and was most evident in CD3+ and NK1.1+ cells. Synthesis of cytokines including interleukin-2, interleukin-4 and interferon-γ was elevated in CD3+ PALN cells after exposure to semen, as assessed by intracellular cytokine fluorescence-activated cell sorting, immunohistochemistry and quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. Matings with vasectomized males indicated that the lymphocyte activation occurs independently of sperm. However, in contrast, males from which seminal vesicle glands were surgically removed failed to stimulate PALN cell proliferation or cytokine synthesis. Adoptive transfer experiments using radiolabelled lymphocytes from mated mice showed that lymphocytes activated at insemination home to embryo implantation sites in the uterus as well as other mucosal tissues and lymph nodes. These findings indicate that activation and expansion of female lymphocyte populations occurs after mating, and is triggered by constituents of seminal plasma derived from the seminal vesicle glands. Moreover, lymphocytes activated at insemination may help mediate maternal tolerance of the conceptus in the implantation site.