What is Reproductive Immunology?
Reproductive immunology (RI) is a field of medicine that studies how the immune system interacts with and affects reproduction. It focuses on how the immune system can either support or hinder the ability to conceive, maintain a pregnancy, and produce healthy offspring.
RI explores in detail the complex relationship between the immune system, reproductive tissues, and hormones, and how disruptions in this relationship can lead to infertility, pregnancy complications, and other reproductive disorders.
Reproductive immunology is a relatively new field of study, having emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Since then, it has helped researchers to better understand the complex relationship between the immune system and reproductive health.
The immune system’s critical role
Researchers have discovered that the immune system is intimately involved in the process of implantation, which is the attachment of the fertilized egg to the uterine wall. This process involves a delicate interplay between immune cells and other cells in the uterus.
The immune system also plays a crucial role in fertility and pregnancy. While the immune system is designed to protect the body from foreign invaders, it also plays a critical role in supporting the development of the placenta and protecting the growing fetus.
Abnormal immune responses
Abnormal immune responses can contribute to infertility and pregnancy complications. For example, autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can cause the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues, including reproductive tissues.
Additionally, male infertility can also be influenced by the immune system. Researchers have discovered that the immune system can produce antibodies against sperm, which can impair their ability to fertilize an egg.
The study of reproductive immunology has led to the development of new treatments for infertility and pregnancy complications. For example, immune-modulating therapies have been used to successfully treat women with recurrent pregnancy loss, implantation failure, and other reproductive disorders.
Immunological problems in IVF and pregnancy
Immunological problems can arise during pregnancy and in vitro fertilization (IVF) due to the complex interplay between the maternal immune system and the developing fetus or the fertilized egg.
There are a number of immunological issues that can arise during pregnancy and IVF. These include:
During pregnancy, the maternal immune system must tolerate the presence of the developing fetus, which is genetically different from the mother. If the immune system does not recognize the fetus as “self,” it may attack it, leading to pregnancy complications such as miscarriage or preterm labor.
Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, can affect fertility and pregnancy outcomes. These disorders cause the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues, including the reproductive system and the developing fetus.
Alloimmune disorders occur when the maternal immune system produces antibodies that attack the fetal blood cells, leading to conditions such as Rh disease. Rh disease occurs when the mother’s Rh-negative blood type reacts with the Rh-positive blood of the fetus, leading to anemia, jaundice, and other complications.
IVF and immunological rejection
In IVF, the fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus, which can trigger an immune response from the mother’s immune system. This response can lead to rejection of the implanted embryo and failure of the IVF procedure.
To address these immunological problems, doctors may use medications such as corticosteroids or immunoglobulin therapy to suppress the immune system and prevent rejection of the fetus or the implanted embryo. Additionally, women with autoimmune disorders may need to manage their condition with medication before and during pregnancy to improve the chances of a successful pregnancy.
Signs of an abnormal immune system
Abnormal immunological reactions during pregnancy can lead to a variety of complications that may affect both the mother and the developing fetus.
Such immune reactions may not always cause symptoms that are noticeable to the mother. In other cases, an immune reaction can lead to symptoms including Recurrent miscarriage, Abnormal vaginal bleeding, Abnormal placenta development, Preterm labor, Intrauterine growth restriction and others.
Life Clinic is an infertility, IVF and Gynaecological Clinic in Athens, Greece, with top success rates and specialisation in immunological disorders and unexplained infertility.
We offer IVF, Egg Donation, Embryo Donation, Egg freezing, PGD/PGS and extensive investigation, treatment and monitoring for the immunological disorders that affect fertility.
Life Clinic is lead by Dimitri Papanikolaou, Obstetrician Gynaecologist specialised in Reproductive Medicine and Reproductive Immunology.