The scientists at Washington State University (WSU) have recently discovered a new gene called Arrdc5 which is expressed in the testicular tissue of mice, cattle, pigs, and humans. The study, published in Nature Communications, suggests that this could be a potential target for male contraceptive development.
If this research becomes practically successful, it can bring a revolution in male contraceptive options which were previously only limited to the use of condoms and a surgical vasectomy. A majority of birth control responsibilities were primarily associated with women. Dr. John Oatley (Professor at WSU’s School of Molecular Biosciences) and colleagues are the faces behind this new study.
What does the Study Suggest?
Previously, scientists have identified other molecular targets for potential male contraceptive development. However, the Arrdc5 gene is specifically found in male testes. To explore its biological function, Oatley and his team used a genome editing technique called CRISPR- Cas9 genome editing. It generates knock-out mice that lack Arrdc5.
According to the study, these mice produced 28% less sperm—of which 98% had abnormal structural features. Briefing about the research, Oatley says, “The study identifies this gene for the first time as being expressed only in testicular tissue, nowhere else in the body, and it is expressed by multiple mammalian species. When this gene is inactivated or inhibited in males, they make sperm that cannot fertilize an egg, and that’s a prime target for male contraceptive development.”
The Future Plans
As per the results of this study, Oatley and his colleagues plan to develop a drug that can inhibit the function of an encoded protein. It is anticipated that these methods would not require the use of hormones, which is an integral part of the development of male contraceptives. “Ideally, a drug-based reversible male contraceptive would target the end phase of spermatogenesis to render sperm incapable of natural fertilization. In this way, the testicular size would not be reduced, the endocrine system would be unperturbed and precursor spermatogenic cell types (e.g., spermatogonia) would not be impacted,” adds Oatley.