If only Henry VIII had known.
Scientists have discovered a gene involved with the production of sperm that may contribute to male infertility.
A research team from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine found that male mice lacking a specific protein were sterile as a result of impaired spermiogenesis, the process that encompasses changes in the sperm head and the formation of the tail.
Sperm are produced in the testicles through a three-step process called spermatogenesis. During the final stage, known as "spermiogenesis," a lot of changes take place, including the packaging of DNA into the sperm head and the formation of the sperm tail, which propels the sperm cell toward the egg.
The team also found that the protein, called meiosis expressed gene 1, or MEIG1, associates with the Parkin co-regulated gene protein, or PACRG protein.
The testicular PACRG protein was found to be reduced in mice deficient in MEIG1. PACRG is thought to play a key role in assembly of the sperm tail.
"We discovered that MEIG1 is essential for male fertility. Moreover, our findings reveal a critical role for the MEIG1/PACRG partnership in the function of a structure that is unique to sperm, the manchette. The absence of a normal manchette in mice lacking MEIG1 totally disrupts the maturation process of sperm," said Jerome F. Strauss III, VCU School of Medicine dean, in a statement.
“In addition to having an impact on fertility, the discovery identifies a new target for drug discovery for a much needed reversible male method of contraception,” he said.
According to the American Fertility Association, one in six couples is affected by infertility, and about half of the cases have a male factor in play -- often the result of sperm defects.
The discovery could lead to the development of a new method of reversible male contraception.