Canadian and European researchers have discovered the gene that regulates ovulation. The gene, called Lrh1, has the ability to both regulate and block ovulation, they said.
"We discerned that this particular gene is absolutely necessary for the ovulatory process," Bruce Murphy, director of the Animal Research Centre at the Université de Montreal, told CBC News.
Advertisement"The absence of this particular gene, in this particular cell in the ovary, had a global effect — it disrupted several processes which are necessary for the final event, which is ovulation."
The researchers from Université de Montreal and Université de Louis Pasteur genetically engineered a mouse that had its Lrh1 gene blocked. Murphy said that when these female animals were put into mate with male animals, no babies were born.
Scientists then discovered the animals were not ovulating.
Murphy said that gene performs many functions. These include hormone balance, the preparation of the egg for ovulation, and the actual rupture of the ovarian follicle that releases the egg.
"A pharmaceutical could be developed to target this particular protein and either turn it on or turn it off," he said. "Turn it on to enhance fertility and turn it off if you want contraception."
The research team has been awarded a five-year grant to follow up on the discovery.
The study is published in the July 15 issue of Genes and Development.