Human β-defensin 1 in follicular fluid and semen: impact on fertility

  • Luisa ZupinEmail author
  • Vania Polesello
  • Monica Martinelli
  • Stefania Luppi
  • Elena Giolo
  • Gabriella Zito
  • Federico Romano
  • Ludovica Segat
  • Sergio Crovella
  • Giuseppe Ricci
Reproductive Physiology and Disease



β-defensins are antimicrobial peptides expressed at mucosal level of male and female genito-urinary tract, where they exert protective functions against infections, possibly preserving human health and fertility. In our study, we investigated the possible involvement of β-defensins in female and male infertility in Italian infertile couples (i) evaluating the presence of human β-defensin 1 (hBD-1) in follicular fluid (FF) and its correlation with in vitro fertilization (IVF) outcomes; (ii) investigating the relationship between hBD-1 levels in semen and IVF outcomes (comprising correlation with sperm parameters); and (iii) exploring the effect of hBD-1 peptide on spermatozoa motility in vitro.


A perspective observational analytic pilot study was conducted. hBD-1 concentration was measured with ELISA assay in FF and semen from 50 couples that underwent assisted procreation technique procedures due to infertility status. Moreover, hBD-1 exogenous peptide was administered to 29 normozoospermic semen and their motility was recorded.


hBD-1 was detected in FF and its levels were significantly higher in women with good fertilization rate (≥ 75%), respect to those with a poor fertilization rate (< 75%). The hBD-1 semen concentrations in oligo-asthenozoospermic subjects were significantly lower than that in normozoospermic men. Instead, hBD-1 level in sperm and FF not correlated with pregnancy rate. Finally, incubation of sperm with exogenous hBD-1 significantly increased progressive motility after 1 h and 24 h.


Being aware of the relatively small sample size and medium power, our results possibly suggest that hBD-1 could influence oocyte and sperm quality, and could improve, when exogenously added, sperm motility.


Antimicrobial peptides β-defensin 1 Innate immunity Infertility In vitro fertilization Sperm motility 


Authors’ contributions

LZ performed the statistical analyses and wrote the manuscript. VP performed hBD-1 ELISA experiments. MM, SL, and EG collected the samples, participated in patients enrollment, and revised the manuscript. GZ and FR enrolled the participants, were responsible of patients clinical management, and collected the samples. LS supervised the experiments, revised the manuscript, and contributed in the study design. SC conceived the study and critically revised the manuscript. GR conceived the study, was responsible for the management of patients, and critically revised the manuscript.


This work was supported by University of Trieste – “University funding for scientific research project “(U22SCFRA15) and by IRCCS Burlo Garofolo/Italian Ministry of Health (RC 15/2017 and RC 18/2016).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Supplementary material

10815_2019_1409_MOESM1_ESM.docx (15 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 14 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luisa Zupin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Vania Polesello
    • 2
  • Monica Martinelli
    • 2
  • Stefania Luppi
    • 2
  • Elena Giolo
    • 2
  • Gabriella Zito
    • 2
  • Federico Romano
    • 2
  • Ludovica Segat
    • 2
  • Sergio Crovella
    • 1
    • 2
  • Giuseppe Ricci
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Medical, Surgical and Health SciencesUniversity of TriesteTriesteItaly
  2. 2.Institute for Maternal and Child Health, IRCCS “Burlo Garofolo”TriesteItaly

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