Gene discovery may pave way for male contraceptive

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Washington, April 3 (ANI): Scientists are concentrating on a newly discovered genetic abnormality, which appears to prevent some men from conceiving children, in order to develop a male contraceptive.

While female oral contraceptives have been available for about 40 years, the only contraceptives available for men are condoms or a vasectomy.

"We have identified CATSPER1 as a gene that is involved in non-syndromic male infertility in humans, a finding which could lead to future infertility therapies that replace the gene or the protein. But, perhaps even more importantly, this finding could have implications for male contraception," said Dr. Michael Hildebrand, co-lead author of the study and a University of Iowa (UI) postdoctoral researcher in otolaryngology at the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

The male infertility gene was discovered during a study on the genetics of families from Iran - a population that has relatively high rates of disease-causing gene mutations.

Studies on mice lacking the CATSPER1 gene have shown that mutations in it affect sperm motility, specifically the very vigorous hyperactive motion the sperm uses when it is entering the egg during fertilization.

"Our research suggests that the defect in sperm hyperactivity that is seen in mice without CATSPER1 will also occur in humans with the genetic mutation," Hildebrand said.

"Identification of targets such as the CATSPER1 gene that are involved in the fertility process and are specific for sperm -- potentially minimizing side effects of a drug targeting the protein's function -- provide new targets for a pharmacological male contraceptive," he added.

While many ideas regarding male contraception are being investigated, the researchers say that one approach that may potentially target CATSPER1 is immunocontraception, where antibodies are developed that bind to a targeted protein and block its function.

They, however, noted that immunocontraception is still in early stages of development, and that in order to be useful, it will need to be proven effective, safe and reversible.

The study has been reported online in the American Journal of Human Genetics. (ANI)

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