AMHERST, Mass. Two new papers from reproductive biologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, with international partners, report advances in understanding the basic processes of sperm capacitation that may one day improve success rates of in vitro fertilization (IVF) by providing a shortcut to bypass problems, and may eventually lead to a male contraceptive.
A "pill for men" may be a long way down the road, says Pablo Visconti, lead UMass Amherst author, but this new fundamental knowledge of how sperm acquire the ability to fertilize an egg, letting scientists either block or enhance the process, is at the heart of being able to control it. Findings by the international research teams appear in early online editions this month of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC), which named one study a finalist for "Paper of the Week."
As Visconti recalls, it was the discovery in the 1950s of sperm capacitation that made IVF possible. Sperm are not fertile until they spend time in the specialized environment of the female reproductive tract, moving through a series of biochemically delicate stages known as capacitation. In the past 50 years it has become clear not only that this signal transduction cascade for capacitation involves many stages, but that each mammalian species has its own different and specific requirements for success.
That is, IVF requirements are not universal, and species-specific requirements need to be established on a case-by-case approach. Visconti says there is great interest in using IVF in horses, for example, but despite years of research this is prohibitively difficult because too little is known about requirements for sperm capacitation in horses. Many biologists are also interested now in using IVF to help preserve endangered species, but the hurdles are immense because each requires very specific procedures
|Contact: Janet Lathrop|
University of Massachusetts at Amherst