May 25, 2012

Gene Study Could Pave Way for Male Contraceptive

(Ivanhoe Newswire) - A new type of male contraceptive could be created thanks to the discovery of a key gene essential for sperm development. This could lead to alternatives to the conventional male contraceptives which rely on the production of hormones, such as testerone.

Research led by the University of Edinburgh, shows how the gene Katnal1 is critical to enable sperm maturity in the testes. If scientists can regulate Katnal1 in the testes, they could prevent sperm completely maturing, resulting in the sperm being ineffective without changing the hormone levels.

The research could also help in finding treatments for cases of male infertility when malfunction of the Katnal1 gene hampers sperm development.

"If we can find a way to target this gene in the testes, we could potentially develop a non-hormonal contraceptive," Dr. Lee Smith, Reader in the Genetic Endocrinology at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Reproductive Health, was quoted as saying.

Scientists found that male mice that were modified, did not have the Katnal1 gene and were infertile. Further research shows that this was a result of the gene being necessary in order for the sperm to completely mature.

They found that Katnal1 was needed to regulate the scaffolding structures known as microtubules, which form part of the cells that support and provide nutrients to developing sperm.

Breaking down and rebuilding these microtubules enables the sperm cells to move within the testes as they mature. Katnal1 acts as the essential controller of this process.

"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," Dr. Smith was quoted as saying.

"Although other research is being carried out into non-hormonal male contraceptives, identification of a gene that controls sperm production in the way Katnal1 does is a unique and significant step forward in our understanding of testis biology."

Source: PLoS Genetics