Oakley, Oliver R. Department of Biological Sciences, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kentucky.
Last reviewed:August 2020
- Immune function in the reproductive tract
- Fetal immune protection and implantation
- Estrogen and immune function
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
The field of science that studies the role of the immune system in reproductive function. People typically think of the immune system as the body's response to foreign invaders. However, in the past few decades, scientists have uncovered many normal biological processes that rely on the immune system. In fact, the immune system plays a role in all aspects of human reproduction, from orchestrating the release of an oocyte from the ovary to protecting the uterine environment for a developing fetus (see illustration). Moreover, many disorders of the reproductive system have been traced back to defects in specific aspects of the immune system, and the idea that the immune system plays a role in reproduction is not a new one. Charles Darwin's proposal that female promiscuity resulted in lower fertility rates led to the discovery of female immune responses toward spermatozoa (mature sperm cells). However, the credit for the establishment of the field of reproductive immunology must be given to Sir Peter Medawar in 1953. Medawar was a pioneer in transplant immunology and recognized that tissue antigens from genetically different individuals constituted the main reason for tissue and organ rejection. Therefore, he was perplexed at the survival of genetically different fetuses within the womb and directed the following question to the scientific community: “The immunological problem of pregnancy may be formulated thus: how does the pregnant mother contrive to nourish within itself, for many weeks or months, a foetus that is an antigenically foreign body?” See also: Animal reproduction; Antigen; Cellular immunology; Clinical immunology; Immunology; Oogenesis; Ovary; Pregnancy; Reproductive system; Reproductive system disorders
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