Fertility and pregnancy * Babies and children

Faulty 'fertility switch' linked to infertility and miscarriage

Faulty  fertility switch  linked to infertility and miscarriage Key enzyme discovered

Scientists have discovered an enzyme that acts as a 'fertility switch,' which is linked to both infertility and miscarriage.

High levels of an enzyme in the womb are associated with infertility, while low levels make it more likely a women will miscarry, scientists have discovered.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Medicine, have implications for the treatment of infertility and recurrent miscarriage and could also lead to new contraceptives.

The researchers from Imperial College London examined womb lining tissue samples donated by 106 women who were being treated either for unexplained infertility or for recurrent pregnancy loss.

The tissue samples taken from the women with unexplained infertility were found to have high levels of the enzyme SGK1. Unexplained fertility was defined as women who had been trying to get pregnant for two years or more and the most common reasons for infertility had been ruled out.

Conversely, the women suffering from recurrent miscarriage had low levels of SGK1.

Tests carried out on mice showed that SGK1 levels in the womb lining of female mice decline during the 'fertility window' when the animals are most likely to fall pregnant.

When extra copies of the SGK1 gene were implanted into the womb lining, the mice were unable to get pregnant, suggesting that a fall in SGK1 levels is essential for making the uterus receptive to embryos, the scientists said.

Professor Jan Brosens, who led the study, said: "Our experiments on mice suggest that a temporary loss of SGK1 during the fertile window is essential for pregnancy, but human tissue samples show that they remain high in some women who have trouble getting pregnant.

"I can envisage that in the future, we might treat the womb lining by flushing it with drugs that block SGK1 before women undergo IVF. Another potential application is that increasing SGK1 levels might be used as a new method of contraception."

This article was published on Mon 17 October 2011

Image © Jared Hudson - Fotolia.com

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