Experts at Durham uncover new fertility gene

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Durham University scientists have identified a new gene that could aid future developments of fertility treatments.

Experts teamed up with Osaka University, Japan to study fertility in mice. They have discovered for the first time that the gene, which makes a protein called PDILT, enables sperm to bind to an egg, a process essential to fertilisation.

The team found that when the gene was ‘switched off’ in male mice, less than three per cent of females’ eggs were fertilised, compared to more than 80 per cent in mice when the gene was left working.

It is the first time that a gene of this type has been linked to fertility.

It was also found that the cumulus cells, a cluster of cells surrounding and protecting an egg, play an essential role in fertility, as they enable sperm to bind correctly to an egg.

Plans are now being developed to research how the gene affects sperm-to-egg binding in humans, although findings are still in a preliminary stage. The findings are published in the journal PNAS, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The discoveries could greatly assist the development of new fertility treatments for humans that could help to reduce the cost and improve the effectiveness of in vitro fertilisation (IVF), as well as proving useful in research into new contraceptive techniques.

Dr Adam Benham, of School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham University, said: “We now hope to discover how the PDILT protein affects fertility in humans. Mutations in the gene may be responsible for unexplained male fertility problems and further research may aid more effective IVF treatment”.

Dr Masahito Ikawa from Osaka University, Japan, added: “This protein is essential for sperm to migrate successfully and is required for fertility. The next step is to see how this protein works with other proteins to control the sperm binding and fusion process”.


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