Innate and adaptive immune responses in male and female reproductive tracts in homeostasis and following HIV infection
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The male and female reproductive tracts are complex microenvironments that have diverse functional demands. The immune system in the reproductive tract has the demanding task of providing a protective environment for a fetal allograft while simultaneously conferring protection against potential pathogens. As such, it has evolved a unique set of adaptations, primarily under the influence of sex hormones, which make it distinct from other mucosal sites. Here, we discuss the various components of the immune system that are present in both the male and female reproductive tracts, including innate soluble factors and cells and humoral and cell-mediated adaptive immunity under homeostatic conditions. We review the evidence showing unique phenotypic and functional characteristics of immune cells and responses in the male and female reproductive tracts that exhibit compartmentalization from systemic immunity and discuss how these features are influenced by sex hormones. We also examine the interactions among the reproductive tract, sex hormones and immune responses following HIV-1 infection. An improved understanding of the unique characteristics of the male and female reproductive tracts will provide insights into improving clinical treatments of the immunological causes of infertility and the design of prophylactic interventions for the prevention of sexually transmitted infections.
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