Contraceptive pills have invited much criticism for tinkering with a woman's hormone production. Now, scientists have identified a protein target that clears the path for a contraceptive pill that will not disrupt the natural hormonal cycles.
The protein, called ZP3, is present in the coating of mammalian eggs. It plays a crucial role in conception, as the sperm must bind to ZP3 if they are to burrow through the coating and fertilize the egg.
Scientists found that female mice engineered to lack ZP3 do not have this coating, making them infertile, while women with abnormal ZP3 may also suffer fertility problems.
For the study, Luca Jovine at the Karolinska Institute in Huddinge, Sweden, and his colleagues used X-ray crystallography to work out the chemical structure of a stretch of mouse ZP3 that gives the protein its structural properties.
Jovine said as the equivalent stretch of human ZP3 is likely to be similar in structure; they could design drugs that bind to ZP3, reports New Scientist.
It would thus prevent the coating from forming and rendering women temporarily infertile.