Seminal fluid: more than just a vehicle for sperm

By / 4th of May, 2015

SOUTH Australian researchers have published the latest piece in a long-term research puzzle investigating the biological activity of seminal fluid.

The paper published this month in the American Journal of Pathology describes an association between the development of the painful uterine condition endometriosis, and exposure of uterine cells to seminal fluid, the liquid component of semen.

“In laboratory studies, our research found that seminal fluid enhances the survival and growth of endometriosis lesions,” says the Robinson Research Institute’s Dr Jonathan McGuane, who is a co-lead author on the paper.

Endometriosis affects around 1 in 10 women, and results from outgrowths of uterine tissues into the abdominal cavity of women with associated pain, menstrual problems and lowered fertility.

While the causes of endometriosis are thought to be multifactorial, a link between endometriosis and seminal fluid had not previously been established.

Director at the Robinson Research Institute and co-author on the paper, Professor Sarah Robertson said although these results will be followed-up with further studies, they are consistent with other research in the field.  

“Our own and other research shows that rather than just being a vehicle for sperm, seminal fluid induces a biological response in female tissues,” she said. 

“In most cases, this activity contributes to setting up an environment which is immunologically receptive for the implantation and growth of the embryo.”

Professor Robertson’s own PhD and postdoctoral studies at the University of Adelaide in the 1990s were some of the very first investigations in the world looking at the interaction between the immune and reproductive systems in women, and how seminal fluid impacts on this.

“But maybe there is a flip-side to this effect,” she said. “Perhaps in some women seminal fluid is one of the factors that contributes to development of a higher risk for developing endometriosis.”

“At this stage there’s not enough evidence to suggest women with endometriosis should change their sex lives,” said Professor Robertson. “But we do think it’s a factor we need to explore more.” 

Key contacts

Professor Sarah Robertson Director, Robinson Research Institute University of Adelaide
08 8313 4094 sarah.robertson@adelaide.edu.au