Tiny Bubbles in Semen Could Contribute to Unexplained Infertility

Tiny Bubbles in Semen Could Contribute to Unexplained Infertility

Unexplained infertility is when standard fertility testing has not found the cause of the inability of an individual or couple to get pregnant. Recently, a team of scientists discovered that the tiny bubbles of fluid-filled cell membranes found in semen could help explain some cases of infertility.

Semen contains small, fluid-filled bubbles of cell membrane called exosomes. Exosomes are secreted by many different cell types, but large amounts of exosomes are found in semen. Exosomes have a role in sperm maturation, motility, and the ability to fertilize an egg. The exosomes have a role in preparing the female reproductive tract for reproduction, also.

According to investigations, exosomes found in the semen of men with fertility issues appear to differ from exosomes that do not have such problems. Gholipour and his team have now provided the first clues that exosomes in the semen of people with unexplained infertility problems can cause the lining of the uterus to become less receptive.

The Infertility Study

During the study, exosomes were collected from semen samples of 10 men with unexplained infertility and 10 sperm donors without fertility problems. Endometrial tissue was extracted from six women and the semen was added to the endometrial cells and incubated for 24 hours.

“Incubated exosomes bind to endometrial cells and can be found within cells” stated Gholipour. “Once inside cells, exosomes can emit a variety of signals.”

The researchers analyzed endometrial cells for the activity of genes known to make the uterus more receptive for implantation of the embryo. They found that the exosomes of men with unexplained infertility triggered a different pattern of genetic activity in endometrial cells. Researchers speculate that this may make the lining of the uterus less receptive to embryo implantation.

Larger studies are needed to confirm these preliminary results. The exact differences between the two sets of exosomes need to be established. In the future, understanding the potential causes of unexplained infertility could help identify new treatment strategies.

Unexplained Infertility

Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after 12 months of regular egg/sperm exposure for individuals under the age of 35, and for those 35 and older after 6 months of regular egg/sperm exposure.

Individuals should seek earlier evaluation if they are over age 40 or if they have irregular periods, abnormal bleeding, history of gynecologic surgery, history of pelvic inflammatory disease, endocrine disorders, inability to maintain an erection, inability to ejaculate, or a history of chemotherapy, radiation, or toxin exposure.

Estimates indicate that anywhere from 15-30 percent of couples experiencing infertility are diagnosed with unexplained infertility. Unexplained infertility is when standard fertility testing has not found cause of the inability to get pregnant. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s guidelines for standard infertility testing recommend assessment of ovulation and ovarian reserve, semen analysis and evaluation of the fallopian tubes.

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