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Hormonal 'on/off switch' may lead to male 'pill' and infertility cure

7 December 2009
Appeared in BioNews 537

A team of scientists has taken male fertility research a major step forward, with the discovery of how androgenic hormones regulate the production of sperm in the testes of mice. The breakthrough, reported in the journal The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), may lead to greater understanding and control of male fertility, including the development of a male contraceptive 'pill', and treatments for infertility.

Androgenic hormones, or androgens, are essential for male fertility because they influence normal sperm development. However, these hormones are mediated through cells in the testes, and there are receptors for androgens in a number of different cell types, so scientists have been unclear as to which ones are most important for sperm production. The research team, from the Centre for Reproductive Biology (CRB) at The Queen's Medical Research Institute (QMRI) in Edinburgh and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia, studied two groups of mice, one of which was missing a gene that codes for androgen hormone receptors. The team discovered that the mice without receptors in a particular cell (peritubular myoid cells) were infertile, producing significantly fewer sperm than the control group.

While the study was carried out in mice, the implications for research in human males are significant. As Dr Michelle Welsh from the CRB at QMRI, a co-author on the study, pointed out, it 'provides a new opportunity to identify how androgens control sperm production, which could provide new insight for the development of new treatments for male infertility and perhaps new male contraceptives'.

Dr Gerald Weissmann, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, has also hailed the long-term implications of the study, stating: 'Although 'the pill' arguably has been liberating for women since its development in the 1960s, a similar birth control drug for men has been elusive... Not only does this research pinpoint androgenic hormones and their cellular receptors as prime targets for the development of new birth control drugs, but it promises to speed the development of new agents to boost sperm production.'

Androgen action via testicular peritubular myoid cells is essential for male fertility
The FASEB Journal |  19 August 2009
Birth Control Pill for Men — Really?
TestCountry.com |  2 December 2009
'The pill' for him: Scientists find a hormonal on-and-off switch for male fertility
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal |  30 November 2009
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