Sperm Ion Channels as Targets for Developing Effective Male Contraceptives

Family planning and access to contraception are fundamental human rights.  While varieties of contraception methods are widely available for female population, the availability of a reliable, safe and noninvasive male and unisex contraceptive has not yet been made possible. Apart from condoms and vasectomy surgery, male contraception is still dwells in its initial development stage. Therefore, development of a “Male Pill” is crucially needed. Such a pill may inhibit sperm function, for example by causing a decrease in sperm motility and thus inhibiting the sperm’s ability to reach and fertilize the oocyte. Among the proteins that play crucial role in sperm fertility are ion channels and therefore direct pharmacological targeting of sperm ion channels represents an attractive way for developing new class of male contraceptives. The cation channel of sperm, CatSper, is a sperm-specific calcium channel and has been shown to be indispensable for sperm fertility in both mice and humans. The human CatSper channel is activated by the hormone progesterone in a non-genomic fashion and is down regulated by several bioactive lipids. However, it should be noted that the molecular identity and regulation of sperm ion channels differs significantly between species. Some channels are present in human sperm and completely absent in mice. Therefore, in evaluating the targets for male contraceptives we concentrate our efforts primarily on studying the ion channels of human sperm.

This project is supported in part by Winkler Family Foundation Fellowship awarded to Dr. Polina Lishko 


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