Identification of a new genetic target for male contraception

May 16, 2023 | Biotechnology

A team from Washington State University discovered the expression of a gene, Arrdc5, located only in the testicular tissues of multiple mammalian species. This could potentially lead to the creation of highly effective, reversible, and non-hormonal male contraceptives for both humans and animals.

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Study indicates that the protein encoded in Arrdc5 is required for normal sperm production. When this gene was inactivated or inhibited in males, the resulting sperm cannot fertilize an egg, which is the primary target for male contraceptive development. In their experiment, significant infertility that occurred only in males resulted as the Arrdc5 gene was knocked out in mice. This condition, called oligoasthenoteratospermia (OAT), impacted their sperm count, movement or mobility, and shape. 

Specifically, male mice lacking the gene produced 28% less sperm with mobility that is 2.8 times slower compared to those in normal mice. 

Moreover, 98% of these sperms had abnormal heads and mid-pieces. With these results, the team is on the way of devising a drug that would inhibit the production or function of the protein in Arrdc5. The disruption of this protein won't need any hormonal interference and would not necessarily destroy the whole system included in sperm production.

Seeing as how analysis of biological data on DNA and protein sequences in mammals found the ubiquity of this gene in almost every species, the potential development of male contraception for livestock use can replace castration as a way to control reproduction or limit populations.

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 For this to be effective on humans, especially for males, would mean curbing the population growth rate born out of unwanted or unintended pregnancies. This has far-ranging impacts and can have the potential to replace vasectomies, an operation which only a few men opt for.

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