Antibodies are part of any healthy immune system - they are used by the immune system to identify and destroy foreign objects like viruses and bacteria. However, sometimes antibodies can erroneously identify something in our bodies as a foreign susbstance that needs to be destroyed when this is not true, causing negative repercussions. This is the case with antisperm antibodies.
Normally, the testes contain a natural barrier, called the blood-testes barrier, which prevents antibodies for getting into contact with sperm in the male reproductive tract. However, if the blood-testes barrier is broken, though injury, infection, disease, or twisting, immune cells can come into contact with sperm. Once the barrier is broken antibodies will be able to identify sperm by their unique antigen surface. Unfortunately, the immune system will label the sperm as a foreign substance and treat it as an invader - the immune system will attack the sperm.
During an immune system attack on sperm caused by a break in the blood-testes barrier, antibodies attach themselves to the sperm. If antibodies locate themselves on the tail of the sperm, the sperm can become immobilized or it can clump together. When antibodies are found on the head of the sperm, they can prevent it from making its way to the woman's cervical mucus to fertilize the egg. If the sperm gets to the egg, it may have a difficult time properly binding and fertilizing the egg.
Any antisperm antibodies can also develop in a woman's cervical mucus. This can further hinder conception. Antisperm antibodies in a woman's cervical mucus may account for up to 40% of unexplained infertility cases.
Antisperm Antibodies Diagnosis and Treatment
Antisperm antibodies can be detected in a semen sample or a sample of cervical mucus. Getting rid of antisperm antibodies can be very difficult so the general procedure is to circumvent them instead. This can be done using IVF, IUI, ICSI, or sperm washing.