Female conditions of impaired fertility comprise a heterogeneous group of disorders that are attributed to various anatomic, hormonal and immunologic disturbances. We hypothesize that autonomic dysfunction may be a previously unrecognized factor in female fertility disorders. Emerging physiologic and molecular evidence suggests that autonomic balance varies during normal menstrual cycles with a shift to sympathetic bias during the luteal phase. Furthermore, many diseases associated with autonomic dysfunction show catamenial variations in patterns consistent with a shift to sympathetic bias occurs during the second half of normal menstrual cycles. The shift to sympathetic bias during the normal luteal phase may be an evolutionary adaptation to address the immunologic and physiologic demands for successful implantation and gestation. Through direct modulation of the lymphoid system and activation of the cortisol pathway, sympathetic bias promotes a shift to relative T helper (Th)-2 biased immunity which may favor maternal tolerance of the embryo by attenuating Th-1 mediated interference of implantation. Indeed, a growing body of evidence has implicated abnormal Th balance in fertility disorders, but the link has been attributed to factors other than autonomic function, such as hormonal factors. After implantation, maternal sympathetic bias may further support gestation through physiologic changes necessary to maintain placental perfusion pressure. We propose that insufficient shift to sympathetic bias during the luteal phase, which manifests in inadequate shift towards Th-2 bias and down-regulation of Th-1 function, may be the mechanism of impaired fertility in certain patients. Our hypothesis portends new potential methods to treat fertility disorders by modulating autonomic balance.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Medicine