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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 0:17 EDT

Scientists Say Key To Fertility Found In Brain Protein

September 3, 2008

Researchers say a small protein molecule in the brain plays a crucial ovulation-triggering role, a finding that could hold the key to new therapies for infertility.

The protein, called kisspeptin, is known to play a vital role in kick-starting puberty.

Now, the first evidence that kisspeptin signaling in the brain is also essential for ovulation to occur in adults has been published by a group from the University of Otago led by Professor Allan Herbison, in collaboration with Cambridge University researchers.

The researchers found that signaling between kisspeptin and its cell receptor GPR54 in female mice was essential to activate gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons, the nerve cells known to initiate ovulation.

“This is an exciting finding, as people have been trying to find out precisely how the brain controls ovulation for more than 30 years. This work now reveals a crucial link in the brain circuitry responsible,” Herbison said.

Disorders affecting the signaling between kisspeptin and the GPR54 receptors will result in women being unable to ovulate, according to indications from the study.

The research added that as an approach to treating infertility in some women, it could allow for ovulation to be induced in a more natural way than current therapies.

Herbison said targeting drugs to this chemical switch to make it work properly may help some people who are infertile, while finding compounds that can block this switch could lead to new contraceptives.

“Our findings show that kisspeptin may be a promising area to focus future research efforts aimed at either enhancing or regulating human fertility.”

The research group is now investigating what role kisspeptin-GPR54 signaling might play in the male reproductive system.

The researchers said the protein’s name “kisspeptin”, is completely unrelated to its association with reproduction.

“The researchers who originally discovered the gene that codes for kisspeptin had no idea that it had a role in fertility — it was named in honor of Hershey Kisses, as Hershey was the town in the United States where the scientists were based.”

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