Causes of Infertility: Sperm Antibodies

Anti-sperm antibodies are among the rare causes of infertility. Men diagnosed with this condition are recommended assisted reproductive technology measures like Intrauterine Insemination or In Vitro Fertilization. This is mainly because anti-sperm antibodies cannot be holistically treated using contemporary treatment options.

Anti-Sperm Antibodies and Fertility

Anti-sperm antibodies are a direct deterrent to the health and functionality of the sperm. They affect the motility of the sperm, causing the sperm to clump together. Anti-sperm antibodies can be present in many men without necessarily inducing infertility. In certain cases, they impair the motility of the sperm to the extent of inducing infertility. In fact, women have also been diagnosed with anti-sperm antibodies, wherein the antibodies make the female's genital tract extremely inhospitable for the sperm. However, this is rather rare and anti-sperm antibodies are generally regarded as a cause of male infertility.

These antibodies can be present in various parts of the sperm cell. When located along the tail of the sperm they cause temporary immobilization of the sperm—the most common effect of anti-sperm antibodies on fertility. Other possible effects include reducing the ability of the sperm to bind with the female egg. This bonding is usually seen when the sperm attaches itself to the external egg cell layering during fertilization. If none of these scenarios seem likely, then chances of female anti-sperm antibodies is indicated.

Understanding Infertility Sperm Antibodies                 

In general, antibodies are needed to protect the body from allergens or disease-causing entities. However, anti-sperm antibodies are formed due to a malfunctioning of the immune system. This happens when the body's immune system becomes reactive to the presence of sperm, triggering an immune reaction wherein sperm are perceived as a threat to the immune system.

It should be noted that the testes have a mechanism wherein the sperm is usually protected against immune system responses. This is needed because sperm carries a unique antigen that is likely to be perceived as a threat by the immune system. However, in men with anti-sperm antibodies, the sperm are exposed to the immune system, triggering the unwanted reaction.

Causes of Infertility Sperm Antibodies

Anti-sperm antibodies can occur due to many reasons. The disruption of the natural barrier between immune system of the body and sperm cells is responsible for anti-sperm antibodies. This barrier can be impaired due to many reasons, such as:

  • Testicular cancer
  • Vasectomy reversal
  • Testicular varicocele
  • Undescended testicles
  • Infection within the testes
  • CAVD—congenital absence of vas deferens
  • Mistakes committed during testicular biopsy
  • Extreme physical trauma, injury or twisting of the testicles

Anti-Sperm Antibodies Testing

Couples who don't undertake proper testing to decode anti-sperm antibodies are often referred to as suffering from 'unexplained infertility.' However, proper testing can help to identify this condition. Such testing procedures are now commonly available in health care facilities. Sperm testing where seminal fluid is tested using an immuno-bead assay is among the most conclusive of all tests for confirming the presence of anti-sperm antibodies.

Other tests include the sperm penetration assay. This test was known as the hamster egg test, but is no longer regarded as the wisest option due to the large variation in its test results. The human zona binding assay is a fairly accurate test, but quite expensive and is technologically demanding for many health care facilities. Other tests that indicate anti-sperm antibodies include post-coital testing for men and women.