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'The pill' for him: Scientists find a hormonal on-and-off switch for male fertility

New research in the FASEB Journal suggests that manipulating testicular hormone levels can turn male fertility on and off, representing new strategy for developing 'the pill' for men and for treating male infertility

A new research report published in the December 2009 print issue of The FASEB Journal could one day give men similar type of control over their fertility that women have had since the 1960s.

That's because scientists have found how and where androgenic hormones work in the testis to control normal sperm production and male fertility. This opens a promising avenue for the development of "the pill" for men. The discovery also offers hope to those who cannot have children because of low sperm counts. Although the research was conducted in mice, a similar effect is likely to obtain in other mammals, such as humans.

"This study provides a new opportunity to identify how androgens control sperm production, which could provide new insight for the development of new treatments for male infertility and perhaps new male contraceptives," said Michelle Welsh, Ph.D., co-author of the study, from the Centre for Reproductive Biology at The Queen's Medical Research Institute in Edinburgh, UK.

To make this discovery, Welsh and colleagues performed studies in two groups of mice. The first group of mice was normal, but the second group of mice was missing a gene from the peritubular myoid cells in the testis. This gene that was missing codes for the androgen hormone receptor, and when missing, sperm production was significantly decreased when compared to the normal group. The result was infertility.

"Although 'the pill' arguably has been liberating for women since its development in the 1960s, a similar birth control drug for men has been elusive," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "Not only does this research pinpoint androgenic hormones and their cellular receptors as prime targets for the development of new birth control drugs, but it promises to speed the development of new agents to boost sperm production."

Receive monthly highlights from The FASEB Journal by e-mail. Sign up at The FASEB Journal ( is published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). The journal has been recognized by the Special Libraries Association as one of the top 100 most influential biomedical journals of the past century and is the most cited biology journal worldwide according to the Institute for Scientific Information. FASEB comprises 22 nonprofit societies with more than 80,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. FASEB advances health and welfare by promoting progress and education in biological and biomedical sciences through service to its member societies and collaborative advocacy.

Details: Michelle Welsh, Philippa T. K. Saunders, Nina Atanassova, Richard M. Sharpe, and Lee B. Smith Androgen action via testicular peritubular myoid cells is essential for male fertility. FASEB J. 2009 23: 4218-4230. doi: 10.1096/fj.09-138347 ;

Cody Mooneyhan | EurekAlert!
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