Scientists have found that a gene known to affect hormone action in breast and prostate cancer cells also has an impact on male fertility.
Scientists from The University of Western Australia (UWA) built upon the work by Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR),which originally discovered the SLIRP gene.
UWA Winthrop Professor Peter Leedman,who leads WAIMR’s Laboratory for Cancer Medicine,said his research team,headed by UWA Assistant Professor Shane Colley,found that mice without the SLIRP gene – a so-called ‘knock-out’ gene had one third fewer offspring than normal mice and produced significantly fewer sperm which could be described as ‘good swimmers’.
Researchers crossed normal females with SLIRP knock-out males and found the litter size was reduced by 30 per cent. Electron microscopy of the sperm without the SLIRP gene found a disruption in the middle section of their structure,which was associated with the sperm swimming more slowly.
With further studies in humans,if reduced SLIRP production turns out to be an important cause of infertility,assessment of SLIRP gene levels in male sperm could help explain why some couples are unable to have a baby.
“This discovery may eventually have practical ramifications for couples who are not having any luck conceiving naturally,” Leedman said. “For example,if our studies in men with infertility demonstrate a key role for SLIRP,then it is feasible that SLIRP testing could help streamline treatment options eg going more directly to IVF (in vitro fertilisation) treatment rather than continuing to try conceiving without medical intervention for another six to 12 months,” Leedman said. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE