The journey to fertility is walked by both men and women. For couples that seek conception and a family yet are unable to due to infertility, it can be a very long and arduous road to walk. Infertility is commonly thought of as a woman’s issue, however sometimes male infertility is the reason a couple is unable to conceive. Through a series of tests fertility doctors are able to discern the cause of infertility for couples and create an individualized plan to help them create a family with the aid of fertility treatments. New research has given doctors insight on sperm motility, and this fascinating new understanding of male fertility could help future generations of men become fathers.
Much to the chagrin of middle-school sex education teachers, conception is not as simple as they may have made it out to be. A number of factors must coincide for a couple to successfully conceive a child. The understanding that creating a child so easy that everyone can do it has caused heartache for many couples over the years. In order to conceive the uterus must be ready, the woman must have ovulated viable ovum, the male’s sperm must be healthy and fast enough to reach the egg in the womb, and a series of hormones and proteins released by both the egg and sperm must be in alignment for the two to meet and create life. New research that is exciting fertility doctors is the discovery of a “Sperm Switch” that activates sperm cells to make their journey to the egg. This discovery has the ability to aid infertile men in creating the family they hope for.
Infertility is an issue faced by many men. In 2002 the CDC claimed that 7.5 percent (around 3.3 – 4.7 million) of sexually active men under the age of 45 had visited a fertility treatment center. Eighteen percent of that total were diagnosed with infertility. For 14 percent of infertile men, the reason was sperm-related.
Sperm count, motility and proportion of normal sperm is how doctors can quantify the quality of a man’s sperm. For the best chances of conception a man must create high-quality, motile sperm to reach the egg. Tests that evaluate how hormones and genetics affect the quality of sperm are also done at Viera Fertility Center and indicate the chances of a successful conception. Identifying the Sperm Switch is a fascinating discovery that may be able to help men with less motile sperm conceive.
The Sperm Switch
Sperm, as a whole, are not very mobile cells. In order to get moving, progesterone must be secreted by the egg. If progesterone is not secreted, sperm are unable to reach the egg in the female reproductive tract. Calcium is also necessary for sperm to get moving. It must pass through the outer membrane of the cell into the flagella, or tail, of the cell to instigate movement. However for calcium to get into the flagella, another protein called CatSper must join with similar proteins, otherwise the sperm will not make it to the egg. Because of all these factors that must be met in order for sperm to simply make it to the egg, researchers were wondering if there was a way to ensure these processes happened, thus increasing the odds of motile sperm and subsequent conception.
To find this out, they needed to understand if progesterone directly causes CatSper to trigger calcium movement, or if another molecule triggers the CatSper, calcium interaction. By learning what triggers sperm to move, researches may understand how to solve a specific type of male infertility or even create a male contraceptive.
In a series of tests that activated and deactivated enzymes in sperm cells researchers were able to isolate an enzyme called ABHD2, or enzyme alpha/beta hydrolase domain containing protein 2 that resides in the flagellum of sperm cells. They found that this enzyme is the molecule that progesterone must bind to in order to activate the CatSper protein to trigger calcium movement. This series of interactions must happen for sperm cells to move towards the egg.
They found that ABHD2 is the sperm switch that primes sperm for fertilization.With this knowledge of how and when exactly sperm is activated and motile, scientists can begin working on treatments that could either enhance ABHD2 in men who suffer from infertility due to sperm-related issues, or completely bypass this enzyme to create a contraceptive for men who are not yet ready for a family.
New science in the field of fertility is exciting in today’s age of technology. Every day we are better understanding fertility at a cellular level and finding out how to best serve our patients. If you and your partner are curious about what may be holding you back from the family of your dreams, schedule an appointment with us at Viera Fertility Center today.