New Male Contraceptives Could Rely on Gene Essential for Sperm Development
May 28, 2012 9:15 AM
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Discovery could lead to new male contraceptive and treatment for infertility
Scientists have discovered a gene that plays a key role in the development of sperm for males. The discovery of this gene could lead to new types of male contraceptives that don't rely on disrupting the production of hormones such as testosterone. Contraceptives that disrupt hormone production can lead to side effects, including irritability, mood swings, and acne.
The gene the scientists have discovered is called Katnal1 and the researchers say it is critical to enable sperm maturation in the testicles. The scientists believe that regulating the Katnal1 gene in the testes could prevent sperm from maturing completely leaving them ineffective without having to change hormone levels. The scientists also believe that the discovery of the Katnal1 gene could be the key in helping to treat male infertility.
Dr. Lee Smith, Reader in Genetic Endocrinology at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Reproductive Health, explained, "If we can find a way to target this gene in the testes, we could potentially develop a non-hormonal contraceptive.
"The important thing is that the effects of such a drug would be reversible because Katnal1 only affects sperm cells in the later stages of development, so it would not hinder the early stages of sperm production and the overall ability to produce sperm."
The researchers genetically modified male mice to remove the Katnal1 gene. The removal of that gene made the male mice infertile. Further investigation into what made the male mice infertile lead to the discovery of gene in question.
The researchers found that Katnal1 is needed to regulate the scaffolding structures known as microtubules that form part of the cells that support and provide nutrients to developing sperm. Breaking down and rebuilding the microtubules is what enable sperm cells to move within the testes as they mature and Katnal1 is the essential controller for the process.
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