The results of the present study show that bilaterally vasectomized rabbits with high levels of antibodies to sperm antigens frequently develop an orchitis associated with granular deposits of rabbit IgG and C3 in the basement membranes of seminiferous tubules. The immune deposits correspond in location to electron-opaque deposits seen by electron microscopy. The "membranous orchitis" is characterized by thickening of tubular basement membranes, acc-mulation of macrophages and a few polymorphonuclear leukocytes, and destruction of the basal lamina, of the Sertoli and spermatogenetic cells. The pathogenetic role of the immune deposits and the possibility that they contain antigen-antibody complexes is indicated by: (a) selective accumulation of IgG and C3 granular deposits along the basement membranes of seminiferous tubules in rabbits producing high and persistent levels of antibodies to sperm antigens; (b) the elution of immunoglobulins from tissues with chaotropic ion-containing buffers, acid buffers, or heat; (c) the observation that the immuno-globulins accumulated in the testis contain antibody to sperm antigens; and (d) the demonstration of sperm antigens in a location similar to that of IgG and C3. It is postulated that sperm antigen-antibody complexes are formed in the basement membranes of seminiferous tubules when antigens leaking out of the tubules react with specific antibody coming from the circulation. In two rabbits with higher levels of circulating antisperm antibodies and severe orchitis, granular deposits of IgG and C3 were also present in renal glomeruli. Immunoglobulins eluted from the kidneys contained antibody with antisperm activity. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that in some vasectomized rabbits extratesticular lesions may develop by a mechanism comparable to that of chronic serum sickness.

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