14 December 2009

Switch that turns male fertility on-and-off discovered

by Kate Melville

By manipulating testicular hormone levels, researchers from the Centre for Reproductive Biology at The Queen's Medical Research Institute (Edinburgh, Scotland) were able to turn male fertility on and off, opening the door for "the pill" for men and new methods to boost male fertility by raising sperm counts.

The technique relies on altering the androgenic hormone receptors in the testes that control sperm production. Although the research, published in the FASEB Journal , was conducted using mice, the researchers say a similar effect is likely in humans.

"This study provides a new opportunity to identify how androgens control sperm production, which could provide new insight for the development of new treatments for male infertility and perhaps new male contraceptives," said Michelle Welsh, co-author of the study.

To uncover the sperm switch, Welsh and her team performed studies using two groups of mice. The first group of mice was normal, but the second group of mice was missing a gene from the peritubular myoid cells in the testes. This gene was missing codes for the androgen hormone receptor and sperm production was significantly decreased - resulting in infertility - when compared to the normal group.

"Not only does this research pinpoint androgenic hormones and their cellular receptors as prime targets for the development of new birth control drugs, but it promises to speed the development of new agents to boost sperm production," noted Gerald Weissmann, editor of FASEB Journal.

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Source: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology