Antisperm Antibodies

A condition present in about 10% of infertile men, antisperm antibodies can affect your chances of becoming pregnant by interfering with the quality or function of the sperm.

What Is It?
Antisperm antibodies occur when the body becomes sensitized to sperm, causing an immune system response that destroys the sperm. Normally, sperm is protected from the immune system by way of a barrier in the testes.

In men who have antisperm antibodies, this barrier has been broken, allowing the immune cells to have access to the sperm. Because sperm have a unique antigen surface, their presence is detected by the immune system and triggers a response.

Depending on where the antibodies are located, sperm can be affected in a variety of ways. When the antibodies are found on the tail, sperm tends to be immobilized or may clump together. Antibodies positioned on the head prevent the sperm from properly binding to the egg, thereby preventing fertilization from taking place.

In some instances, a woman’s cervical mucus can also develop antibodies to her partner’s sperm. It is believed that antisperm antibodies in the cervical mucus may account for as much as 40% of unexplained infertility in couples.

There are a variety of reasons why antisperm antibodies occur. Anything that results in disrupting the natural barrier between sperm and the immune system can put a person at risk of developing the disorder. Some common causes of antisperm antibodies include:

  • Infection
  • Undescended testicles
  • Twisting of the testicles
  • Injury to the testicles
  • Testicular biopsy
  • Testicular cancer
  • Varicocele
  • Congenital absence of the vas deferens (CAVD)

Men who have had a vasectomy reversal are especially likely to have antisperm antibodies. Almost 70% of men who had this procedure performed were found to have antisperm antibodies.

Getting Help
It is fairly easy to diagnose the condition in men. A simple, direct analysis of a man’s sperm can determine whether or not antibodies are present. Examination of a woman’s cervical mucus after sex can reveal if her body contains any antibodies.

Unfortunately, it is not easy to get rid of the antibodies. Using high doses of corticosteroids has been shown to lower the number of antibodies, thereby temporarily restoring fertility. However, the high doses needed to combat the antibodies can cause some serious side effects.

Most couples affected by this condition will likely need to turn to assisted reproductive technologies in order to conceive. Washing the sperm before in vitro fertilization has been found effective in producing fertilized eggs for implantation. This technique of washing sperm can also be utilized for intrauterine insemination.

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