Science Stories

Seminal fluid is important not just as a vehicle for sperm, but also as a trigger for immune reactivity in tissues exposed to it. It’s an idea the Robinson Institute’s Professor Sarah Robertson has explored comprehensively in animals over her career spanning more than 20 years in reproductive immunology.

In 2012, Sarah and her colleagues published two landmark papers providing the first evidence that such a system may also operate in humans. A combination of laboratory and clinical studies showed that exposure of cervical cells to signaling molecules in semen initiates a cascade of local immune changes. The data suggest that semen plays a coordinating role in generating immune environments that promote healthy pregnancy and protect against infectious disease.

Apart from their scientific and clinical value, the papers also highlight the importance of establishing key collaborative relationships and performing detailed discovery work in animal models such that meaningful advances can be made in human studies.

Together, the data from the two papers form a foundation from which continued work exploring the male contribution to pregnancy and disease can occur.

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