Discovery of a new protein could lead to new male contraceptives

Researchers from Osaka University have made significant progress in understanding the process of sperm maturation, potentially opening doors to the development of new male contraceptives. The study, published in Nature Communications, sheds light on the mechanisms involved in sperm maturation, a relatively understudied area of reproductive biology.

To investigate sperm maturation, the researchers conducted experiments using genetically modified mice. By leveraging genome-editing technology, they were able to manipulate protein expression, which plays a crucial role in complex cellular processes like maturation. The focus of their study was on a protein called NELL2, secreted from the testis, which binds to a receptor called ROS1 in the epididymis, initiating sperm maturation.

In the course of their investigation, the researchers made a significant discovery: another protein called “NELL2-interacting cofactor for lumicrine signaling” (NICOL). NICOL forms a tight molecular complex with NELL2 and is essential for the proper control of sperm maturation. When NICOL was absent, sperm maturation was disrupted, leading to sterility in mice. However, restoring NICOL expression resulted in the restoration of fertility.

The implications of this study are promising, as it paves the way for the development of novel male contraceptives that do not rely on hormonal methods. Targeting NICOL to inhibit sperm maturation could potentially serve as a non-hormonal contraceptive approach. Furthermore, increasing NICOL expression may hold potential for treating certain cases of infertility.

While this study provides valuable insights into sperm maturation, further research is needed to validate these findings in human cells and tissues.

Source: Osaka University

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