Breakthrough for Male Birth Control Pill Plant Extract Could Block Sperm Mobility

Breakthrough-for-Male-Birth-Control-Pill-Plant-Extract-Could-Block-Sperm-Mobility

New research reports that compound from plant extract could successfully target proteins known to be key for sperm fertility.

The study was published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Medicinal Chemistry in January 2018. The compound called ouabain is found naturally in two types of African plants: Acokanthera schimperi and Strophanthus gratus. It can be extracted from roots, stems, leaves, and seeds, which was traditionally used for poison-tipped arrows by eastern African tribes. It’s also produced by some mammals in low doses to regulate blood pressure.

According to the new study on rats, ouabain blocks sodium and calcium ions moving through a type of membrane protein called Na,K-ATPases. These are composed of protein sub-units. Researchers believe that they could be a critical player in the search for male contraceptives.

‘An attractive approach to develop a male contraceptive is the targeting of proteins that are essential for sperm fertility,’ the authors wrote in the new study.

The finding that some proteins are specifically expressed in sperm provides the additional opportunity to interfere with male fertility, minimizing other toxic side effects. Findings of the study show that Na,K-ATPase α4 is an attractive target for male contraception. As ouabain can’t be used by itself, the researchers designed a number of analogues that could bind to the protein. Scientists removed a sugar group and replaced its lactone group, giving rise to a derivative that was able to target the desired protein in the rats’ sperm cells. Binding with the protein disrupts the sperm cell’s ability to swim making it more difficult to fertilize the egg. This compound was found to be nontoxic in rats.

According to Contraceptives Drugs and Devices Market report published by Coherent Market Insights, contraceptive drugs and devices that aid to control birth rate and unintended pregnancies. However, oral contraceptives are developed only for women so far. Contraceptives based on this compound would be reversible, as the protein is found only on mature sperm cells. These characteristics provide the advantage of blocking sperm function without affecting undifferentiated male germ cells, which allows for temporary and reversible inhibition of male fertility.

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