Sperm coat protein may be key to male infertility: Study

July 21st, 2011 - 5:32 am ICT by IANS  

New York, July 21 (IANS) The loss of a protein that coats sperm cells may explain a significant proportion of infertility in men worldwide, according to a new study.

The research by an international team of scientists led by University of California Davis could open up new ways to screen and treat couples for infertility, Xinhua reported.

A gene DEFB126 encodes a protein called Beta Defensin 126, which coats the surface of sperm and helps it penetrate cervical mucus in the female.

A survey of samples from the US, Britain and China showed that as many as a quarter of men across the world carry two copies of the defective gene.

In the study, the researchers found that men with a muted DEFB126 lack Beta Defensin 126, making it more difficult for sperm to swim through the mucus and eventually join with an egg.

Examining 500 newly-married Chinese couples, researchers found that the lack of Beta Defensin 126 in men with the DEFB126 mutation lowered fertility - even when men did not display other deficiencies like inadequate semen volume and low sperm motility.

Wives of men with the Beta Defensin 126 variant were significantly less likely to become pregnant than were other couples, and 30 percent less likely to have a birth.

This genetic variation in DEFB126 likely accounts for many unexplained cases of infertility, the researchers said.

A paper describing the work was published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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