What role do natural killer cells play in male infertility?
‘Killer Cells’?…sounds like a title for a ‘B’ grade movie, what do they have to do with infertility?
What are ‘killer cells’?
As part of the human body’s natural immune system it produces cells which protect the body from invasion against disease and infections. These cells are predominantly found in the blood and are called ‘Natural Killer Cells’ or NK cells. Similar cells are also found in the lining of a woman’s uterus.
Why are they a cause of infertility?
The cells of an individual’s body are recognised by these NK cells and so they very rarely attack their own host. However in certain cases, during conception, from the moment the sperm enter the female’s body, the female killer cells attack sperm because they identify the cells in the semen and sperm to be foreign bodies – not from the host.
The hidden enemy
If the sperm does manage to evade the killer cells and fertilize the egg there is another possible enemy waiting in the sideline so to speak. It has been noted that, in some cases of women who suffer frequent miscarriages, the natural killer cells in the uterus (uterine NK cells) attack and disrupt the development of the embryo in the early stages of pregnancy, which causes the body to reject and miscarry.
Is there anything I can do?
While every human has their own natural killer cells, those of the male do not play a part in the problem of NK cells in fertility. It’s a very emotionally upsetting time, especially for a woman, so the main thing that you can do is to support your partner at this stage while you await test results and discuss the options available to you.
Is there a treatment?
There are some possibilities available which target suppression of NK cells. However, as with all treatments they carry some element of risk/side effects.
It is important that you seek advice from qualified and respected infertility expert like Dr Polyakov and that all the options are explained in full in order for you to make an informed choice.