Learning More About Sperm Proteins

Scientists at the Université de Montréal and Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Centre have had a "eureka moment" in their research that may affect our understanding about infertility and how to treat this heartbreaking condition. A study just published in Molecular Human Reproduction states that the researchers are the first to reproduce and cleanse of impurities, a protein that is essential for the maturation of sperm. The protein is called Binder of Sperm (BSP). It is believed that the achievements of the Montreal research team may help find new ways of treating infertility as well as making it possible to create more forms of male contraception.

New Methods

As reported by a study published in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction, these researchers have become the first to clone, produce and purify a protein important for sperm maturation, termed Binder of Sperm (BSP).  These findings may have profound implications for both fertility treatments and new methods of male contraception. Lead author of the study, Dr. Puttaswamy Manjunath, a professor in the medicine and biochemistry departments at the Université de Montréal as well as a member of the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Centre said that in the past, scientists have isolated BSPs from several animal species. "We know from these studies that if this protein is missing or defective in these species, fertility is compromised. We believe that BSP is equally important in humans."

Proved Elusive

But finding and characterizing these proteins in humans proved elusive for more than a decade. In most of the mammals studied, BSPs were manufactured by the seminal vesicles and introduced to sperm at the time of ejaculation. However, in humans, rodents, and in primates, the protein is produced in miniscule amounts in the duct which joins the testes to the urethra, the epididymis. Dr. Manjunath commented that for a few years, scientists had been searching for the protein in the wrong part of the male anatomy. Add this to the fact that BSP is produced in small quantities in humans and the task of isolating and characterizing the protein seemed a mission impossible.

In an effort to solve this problem once and for all, Manjunath and his team decided to use molecular biology to clone the DNA for human BSP. Through this process, the scientists were at last able to manufacture and cleanse the protein. According to Manjunath, the next step is to ascertain the role of BSP in human fertility.

Once sperm is ejaculated into the female reproductive system, it undergoes a complicated set of changes. Some of the modifications to sperm at this time include a shifting of the proteins found on the surface of the sperm, a decrease in the amount of lipids contained within the sperm membranes, and greater sperm motility. The seminal vesicles of cows, pigs, sheep, and other animals with hooves produce a number of BSPs which have been shown to be elemental in the maturation of sperm within the female reproductive system.


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