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When sperm leave the testis, they are not motile and they do no have the ability to interact with the oocyte. Sperm acquire these abilities during their passage through the epididymis, which is a long, narrow and convoluted tube located between the testis and the vas deferens. The epididymis is the primary site of sperm maturation and storage. Sperm maturation involves a sequence of finely tuned molecular and cellular events that remain relatively understudied, despite their critical importance in the establishment and maintenance of male fertility.
Fertility is a reflection of the overall health of an individual and can be influenced by most organ systems, in addition to the heavy impact of environmental and lifestyle factors. Our laboratory specifically focuses on the role of the immune system in the post-testicular environment. We have found that a dense and heterogeneous network of mononuclear phagocytes (dendritic cells and macrophages) populates the epididymis. These specialized immune cells are considered to be the sentinels and the scavengers of the immune system. While mononuclear phagocytes are widely studied in other mucosal systems, their functions in the reproductive tract are largely unknown. Using mouse models and state-of-the-art technologies available at Massachusetts General Hospital, we aim to provide a better understanding of the interplay between the immune system and the reproductive tract.
In the US, 1 in every 10 couples is unable to conceive a child and breaches in the immune system are heavily implicated. Advances in male reproductive immunology will, ultimately, help to better understand and treat male infertility.
Our research is supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
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Nicolas Da Silva, PhD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
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