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28 May 2012
Gene discovery points way to non-hormonal male contraceptive
by George Atkinson

A new type of male contraceptive could be created based on the discovery of a key gene responsible for the development of sperm in the testes. It could lead to alternatives to the conventional male contraceptives that rely on disrupting the production of hormones (such as testosterone). These treatments can cause side-effects such as irritability and mood swings.

Published in PLoS Genetics, the research shows how a gene - known as Katnal1 - is critical to enable sperm to mature. The researchers, from the University of Edinburgh, say that if scientists can regulate the Katnal1 gene in the testes, they could prevent sperm from maturing completely, making them ineffective.

"If we can find a way to target this gene in the testes, we could potentially develop a non-hormonal contraceptive," explained researcher Lee Smith. "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."

The study showed that Katnal1 was needed 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 maturation.

Discuss this article in our forum
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Source: Public Library of Science

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