Fertility and pregnancy * Men's health * Sexual health

Study finds possible genetic factor in male infertility

simulated image of sperm on journey to egg Gene causes defects in sperm production

Over 75% of male infertility cases are caused by problems with sperm or its production. A new study has identified a possible genetic basis for at least some of these problems.

Sperm production is a 3 step process known as spermatogenesis. The final stage involves the actual packaging of the male DNA into the head of the sperm and the formation of the sperm tail. The tail is the vital mechanism which propels the sperm towards the egg.

Results from the study on mice show that if they lacked a particular protein then this third stage fails to function properly. The presence or absence of the protein is a result of genetic factors. These are also linked to another protein involved in the production of the sperm tail.

The protein plays a part in the creation of the so-called manchette, which is essentially a covering around the sperm head which contains the DNA. The absence of the manchette totally disrupts the maturation process of sperm according to the researchers.

Leader of the study, Jerome F. Strauss III of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, said "We discovered that (this protein) is essential for male fertility. Moreover, our findings reveal a critical role for the MEIG1/PACRG partnership in the function of a structure that is unique to sperm, the manchette."

"In addition to having an impact on fertility, the discovery identifies a new target for drug discovery for a much needed reversible male method of contraception" he said.

The study was reported in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This article was published on Wed 16 September 2009

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