What is it about?

It has long been thought that semen impairs the immune response in the recipient genital tract. This is important to help decrease immune responses against semen and promote conception. However, it might also help to explain why so many viruses and bacteria are transmitted sexually. In this work, we show that small particles in semen called extracellular vesicles impair memory immune responses.

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Why is it important?

Many scientists are hard at work on vaccines for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV and herpes. Our work demonstrates that it is important to consider how semen might change the effectiveness of these vaccines at the time the diseases are transmitted.


It is intriguing to consider how semen and fetuses must be tolerated by women in order to support new life, yet this tolerance can be exploited by pathogens. Most studies on pathogens are done with isolated viruses or bacteria, but it is important to consider the entire ecosystem at the point of disease transmission in order to truly understand how to stop sexually transmitted infections.

Lucia Vojtech
University of Washington

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This page is a summary of: Extracellular vesicles in human semen modulate antigen-presenting cell function and decrease downstream antiviral T cell responses, PLoS ONE, October 2019, PLOS, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0223901.
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