Reserachers from the Harvard Medical School have been able to identify a vital component of the mechanism that a sperm uses to speed up its integration with the egg so that fertilization can take place. Reserachers say this study could provide useful pointers when examining the issue of male infertility.
"No one had ever seen inside sperm cells to measure all the currents that control their activity," said lead researcher Dr David Clapham. "We are already measuring many of these currents and beginning to answer questions about what they are and what they do." The process wherein there is a sudden change in the motion of the sperm is called hyperactivation. The Harvard team have zeroed in on a protein called CatSper1-, which appears to hold a key to this whole process. In the latest study, published in the journal Nature, the reserachers showed that the protein plays a key role in the flow of calcium ions into the sperm cell. This mechanism is though to trigger the hyperactivation. "We know that defects in CatSper1 block fertilization in mice," Dr Clapham said. "And since the channels in human sperm are very similar, there is no reason to believe you couldn't develop a male or female birth control pill that would block the protein before it functions to hyperactivate sperm, preventing fertilization."