Seminal plasma differentially regulates inflammatory cytokine gene expression in human cervical and vaginal epithelial cells

David J. Sharkey, Anne M. Macpherson, Kelton P. Tremellen, Sarah A. Robertson

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199 Citations (Scopus)


Exposure to semen elicits an inflammatory response in the female reproductive tract of rodents and other animals. The nature and regulation of any similar response in humans is poorly understood. This study investigated seminal plasma induction of inflammatory cytokine and chemokine gene regulation in human cervical and vaginal epithelial cells in vitro. Affymetrix microarray gene profiling revealed that inflammatory cytokine genes were prevalent among 317 known genes differentially expressed in immortalized ectocervical epithelial (Ect1) cells after incubation with pooled human seminal plasma. A dose- and time-dependent induction by seminal plasma of IL8, IL6, CSF2 and CCL2 mRNA expression in Ect1 cells was verified by quantitative RT-PCR. This was accompanied by increases in Ect1 secretion of immunoactive gene products IL-8, IL-6, GM-CSF and MCP-1. Similar cytokine responses were elicited in primary ectocervical epithelial cells. Endocervical epithelial (End1) and vaginal epithelial (Vk2) cells were less responsive to seminal fluid, with induction of IL-8 and MCP-1, but not GM-CSF or IL-6. In a panel of 10 seminal plasma samples, considerable variation in inflammatory cytokine-inducing activity was evident. These experiments show that seminal plasma can elicit expression of a range of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines in reproductive tract epithelia, and implicate the ectocervix as the primary site of responsiveness, with gene-specific differences in the kinetics and site-restrictedness of the response. Seminal factor regulation of inflammatory cytokines in the cervical epithelium is implicated in controlling the immune response to seminal antigens, and defence against infectious agents introduced at intercourse.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-501
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Human Reproduction
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Cervix
  • Chemokine
  • Cytokine
  • Immunology
  • Inflammation


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