Health Watch -- Male Fertility

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Research into causes of male infertility may help lead to a new form of contraceptive.

While studying the effects of various genes that play a role in sperm development and maturation, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas may have found the key to a new kind of contraceptive that could have fewer side effects than many types used today.

The researchers discovered that by disrupting one particular gene, they can block a key ion channel that's essential for sperm to fertilize eggs. The ion channel causes sperm cells to go into a state of hyperactivation, or increased mobility. This state is essential for a sperm cell to penetrate the outer covering of an egg and fertilize it. Disrupting the gene function has no other effects on sperm development or mobility. It just keeps the sperm cells from fertilizing an egg.

Dr. Timothy Quill, one of the UT Southwestern pharmacology researchers who worked on this project, says this discovery could lead to the development of a new kind of contraceptive that would be fast-acting and that would have few side effects because it only affects one function of the sperm cells. With fewer side effects than contraceptives currently on the market, this drug might offer fewer health risks for people who use it.

Researchers continue to study the various genes that affect sperm growth and development. Their work could find additional targets for contraceptive drugs. They may also find causes of male infertility and ways of treating it.