Researchers at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research have identified an immune substance in human semen that appears to determine the fertility of a man.
Dr. Yousef Al-Abed says that the substance called macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) is the key to helping sperm mature, which is necessary for its union with an egg.
The findings, published in Molecular Medicine, attain significance as they may lead to a diagnostic test to determine fertility status.
During the study, the researchers collected semen samples from men three to five days after a period of sexual abstinence. While 68 men had problems conceiving, 27 were healthy controls. When the researcher were analysing the levels of MIF, they did not have any idea as to whether the samples came from infertile men or from healthy controls.
It was observed that the MIF levels in men with infertility problems were either too high or too low, while healthy controls had levels that were just right.
Upon adding MIF into lab dishes filled with healthy sperm, the researchers noted that their count had decreased, and motility impaired.
Dr. Al-Abed wonders whether MIF can work as a form of male contraceptive, if it has a role in infertility.
MIF is a key player of the immune system that has also been linked to many autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, such as diabetes and sepsis.
Dr. Al-Abed has been trying to identify and design small molecules that would block MIF activity.