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Gene discovery could herald non-hormonal male contraceptive

Friday May 25th, 2012

A new male contraceptive could be developed following genetic discoveries by British scientists, it was announced today.

Scientists hope that regulating the newly-found gene Katnal1, which enables sperm to mature in the testes, could stop maturation and make them ineffective without resorting to changing hormone levels. The process would be easily reversible.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, hope their findings will result in alternatives to existing male contraceptives, which rely on disrupting hormone production.

The study, which is published in the journal Public Library of Science Genetics, could also lead to treatments for male infertility when the Katnal1 gene malfunctions and hampers sperm development.

The role of Katnal1 was established when the gene was modified in mice and led to their becoming infertile. Scientists demonstrated that the gene was required 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.

Dr Lee Smith, Reader in Genetic Endocrinology at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Reproductive Health, said: “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.

“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.”

Regulation of Sertoli Cell Microtubule Dynamics Is Essential for Spermiogenesis and Male Fertility. Smith LB, Milne L, Nelson N, Eddie S, Brown P, et al. PLoS Genet 8(5): e1002697. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002697

Tags: Genetics | Menís Health | UK News

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