PloS one 2017 03 0912(3) e0170306 doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0170306
Human semen has the potential to modulate the epithelial mucosal tissues it contacts, as seminal plasma (SP) is recognized to contain both pro- and anti-barrier components, yet its effects on epithelial barrier function are largely unknown. We addressed the role of human SP when exposed to the basal-lateral epithelial surface, a situation that would occur clinically with prior mechanical or disease-related injury of the human epithelial mucosal cell layers in contact with semen. The action of SP on claudins-2, -4, -5, and -7 expression, as well as on a target epithelium whose basolateral surface has been made accessible to SP, showed upregulation of claudins-4 and -5 in CACO-2 human epithelial cell layers, despite broad variance in SP-induced modulation of transepithelial electrical resistance and mannitol permeability. Upregulation of claudin-2 by SP also exhibited such variance by SP sample. We characterize individual effects on CACO-2 barrier function of nine factors known to be present abundantly in seminal plasma (zinc, EGF, citrate, spermine, fructose, urea, TGF, histone, inflammatory cytokines) to establish that zinc, spermine and fructose had significant potential to raise CACO-2 transepithelial resistance, whereas inflammatory cytokines and EGF decreased this measure of barrier function. The role of zinc as a dominant factor in determining higher levels of transepithelial resistance and lower levels of paracellular leak were confirmed by zinc chelation and exogenous zinc addition. As expected, SP presentation to the basolateral cell surface also caused a very dramatic yet transient elevation of pErk levels. Results suggest that increased zinc content in SP can compete against the barrier-compromising effect of negative modulators in SP when SP gains access to that epithelium’s basolateral surface. Prophylactic elevation of zinc in an epithelial cell layer prior to contact by SP may help to protect an epithelial barrier from invasion by SP-containing STD microbial pathogens such as HPV or HIV.