November 23, 2017 |
UVA Fertilization Discovery May Lead to Male Contraceptive
June 24, 2015  | 

Charlottesville, VA - Groundbreaking new reproductive research from the School of Medicine has identified key molecular events that could be playing a critical role as sperm and egg fuse to create new life. The findings might one day lead to the creation of a male contraceptive.

The discovery by members of John Herr's lab (UVA's Center for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health) has been featured on the cover of the scientific journal Biology of Reproduction. "This report expands our fundamental understanding of the molecular architecture at the site of sperm-egg fusion," Herr said. "Understanding at the molecular level exactly how the sperm is able to bind with and enter the egg opens opportunities to identify molecules that can disrupt or block the fertilization event."

When the sperm first arrives at the egg, the sperm contains enzymes to help it penetrate the egg and fuse with its target. The release of these enzymes is known as the acrosomal reaction. The head of the sperm is completely transformed by this reaction, and tremendous changes begin to take place. But despite this massive remodeling, something intriguing happens, Herr's new research found: A particular protein from within the sperm stays intact at the site of fusion. This protein -- discovered by Herr's lab 15 years ago -- remains in place although many other proteins are lost.

The evidence indicates that the protein, ESP1, is stabilizing the area where the sperm-egg fusion is occurring. That ESP1 is conserved in the region of the sperm head that is thought to initiate fusion with the egg during this transformative time after the acrosome reaction suggests ESP1 is playing a key structural role. "We suspect ESP1 is one of the key molecules that helps to stabilize the equatorial segment region of the sperm head," Herr said. Continue>

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