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Discovery of Gene May Lead to New Male Contraceptive

THURSDAY, May 24 (HealthDay News) -- The discovery of a key gene involved in sperm development could eventually lead to the creation of a new type of non-hormonal birth control for men, a study involving mice suggests.

Researchers found that a gene called Katnal1 is critical to enable sperm to mature in the testes. Finding a way to regulate this gene could prevent sperm from maturing, making them incapable of fertilizing eggs.

This finding also could lead to new treatments for cases of male infertility in which the Katnal1 gene malfunctions and hampers sperm development, according to the study, from researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

The researchers found that male mice modified to lack the Katnal1 gene were infertile. Further investigation revealed that the gene was essential for sperm development and maturation.

Successful trials in mice do not necessarily mean the success will translate to humans, however.

The study was published in the journal PLoS Genetics.

"If we can find a way to target this gene in the testes, we could potentially develop a non-hormonal contraceptive," study author Lee Smith, of the University of Edinburgh's Center for Reproductive Health, said in a journal news release.

"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," Smith said.

"Although other research is being carried out into non-hormonal male contraceptives, identification of a gene that controls sperm production in the way Katnal1 does is a unique and significant step forward in our understanding of testis biology," Smith concluded.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health has more about birth control methods.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: PLoS Genetics, news release, May 24, 2012

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