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Sperm Membrane’s GM1 could be Key in Boosting or Preventing Fertilization

Update Date: Feb 11, 2014 01:50 PM EST

According to a new study conducted by researchers from Cornell University, they discovered a key component in sperm that could improve or prevent fertilization. The researchers identified a component called GM1 in the sperm membrane that greatly affects how the sperm fertilizes an egg. The researchers believe that by targeting the GM1, they could potentially create new treatments that either assist in or prevent fertilization.

For this study, lead author Dr. Alexander Travis, an associate professor of reproductive biology at Cornell's Baker Institute for Animal health and the College of Veterinary Medicine, worked with his colleagues in examining the role of GM1 in the sperm membrane. The researchers reported that as a sperm cell approaches an egg, GM1 is responsible for opening and closing a particular calcium channel located on the surface of the sperm head.

When the channel opens, a very small amount of calcium can enter the sperm, which then triggers the sperm to release enzymes that allow it to enter through the thick outer coating of an egg. This step, known as the acrosome exocytosis, is an irreversible step toward fertilization. The researchers believe that by being able to define how GM1 works, they can now find compounds that either block or mimic GM1.

"It potentially gives you a new approach for a spermicide," Travis stated according to Medical Xpress.

Current spermicides are detergent-based and have been tied to increasing the users' likelihood of developing sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The researchers stated that with this new knowledge, they could potentially create a spermicide that does not use detergents and work by getting the GM1 to kill the sperm before it reaches the egg. The researchers stated that on the other hand, the GM1 could be targeted in fertility treatments for humans, livestock or even endangered species.

The study, "Lipid Modulation of Calcium Flux through CaV2.3 Regulates Acrosome Exocytosis and Fertilization," was published in Developmental Cell.

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