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GLOSSARY

Antisperm antibodies

Antisperm antibodies are immunoglobulins (immune system proteins) that are directed against sperm. This occurs when the immune system mistakenly identifies sperm as an invader and targets it, affecting fertility. While these antibodies are rare, they can be found in the semen, blood, or vaginal fluid. The production of these antibodies can be triggered in males by an infection in the prostate or by an injury to the testicles, among other causes.

What are antisperm antibodies?

Antibodies are immune system proteins that the body produces in response to foreign material in the body, such as bacteria and viruses. Antisperm antibodies are proteins that mistakenly attack sperm as if they were invaders. They are sometimes — though rarely — found in semen, blood, or in the female reproductive system. Because antisperm antibodies are intended to destroy sperm, their presence can have a negative impact on sperm count and sperm quality.

Antisperm antibodies and male fertility

When antisperm antibodies are produced by the immune system of a person with sperm, they can severely impact sperm count and sperm motility, making it difficult for sperm to pass through cervical mucus to reach the egg. When they are produced by the body of a person with ovaries, antisperm antibodies have the ability to kill sperm before they are able to reach the egg, impeding the fertilization process.

When a high number of antisperm antibodies come into contact with sperm, it can be difficult for that sperm to fertilize an egg. This is called immunologic infertility. This condition may be diagnosed through an antisperm antibody test, which detects these antibodies in blood, semen, or vaginal fluid.

Causes of antisperm antibodies

When the testicles are injured or a surgery is performed, the sperm may come into contact with the immune system, which produces antibodies to protect itself. Vasectomies or vasectomy reversals, biopsies, trauma, obstructions, and prostate infections are all possible causes of antisperm antibodies in the male body. They can also occur in the female body if a person has an allergic reaction to their partner’s sperm.

Treatment for antisperm antibodies

Treatment for antisperm antibodies includes immunosuppressive therapies such as corticosteroids or cyclosporine. Additionally, laboratory techniques like sperm washing, immunomagnetic sperm separation, proteolytics enzyme treatment, and the use of immunobeads can be employed to reduce the impact of antisperm antibodies.

Reproductive technologies such as intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization, and intracytoplasmic sperm injection can also help facilitate the fertilization process.

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