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Developing a Male Contraceptive Pill: Two Studies Bring us Closer

Male infertility and contraceptive pills

Chemical clues to how sperm finds egg

Would you or your husband take a male contraceptive pill?

Two studies published yesterday in the journal Nature give us hints at how a male contraceptive drug could work.

Separate reproductive biology teams in Germany and the U.S. have figured found key chemical steps that successfully lead sperm cells to egg, giving us clues both about what causes infertility in certain men, and how we could harness this chemical pathway to block fertility in others.

Here’s what they found:

The key finding was that sperm cells use the female hormone progesterone (emitted by cells surrounding the egg) as a chemical guide — a target that leads them in towards their goal. When they detect progesterone, it activates a channel in the sperm cell that floods the sperm with calcium. They start hyperactively beating their tails and that propels them forward (like getting an energy drink halfway through a marathon).

Without proper progesterone sensors, or without that special calcium boosting channel (called CatSper), men are infertile.

Since we can already overcome the problem of sperm and egg finding each other using IVF, the prospect of using this chemical pathway for fertility treatment isn’t as exciting. Instead, what the scientists hope to do is use this pathway from progesterone to CatSper to block sperm’s ability to find the egg.

So instead they’re working on inhibiting CatSper so that sperm don’t get a jolt from progesterone. They would just continue to swim blindly and lazily along.  The researchers say that theoretically, either men or women could take a contraceptive drug that uses this mechanism.  I vote for men.

Image: wikimedia

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