Potential for Hormone-Free Male "Pill"

Male contraception drugs without the side effects may be possible

(RxWiki News) Wouldn't it be nice to have a male contraceptive pill without side effects? No such drug is in development yet, but a recent genetic discovery has shown it's possible.

A group of researchers discovered that it may be possible to create a new form of male contraceptive drug that does not interfere with a man's hormones.

"Use protection during sex to prevent unwanted pregnancy."

Lee Smith, a Reader in Genetic Endocrinology at the University of Edinburgh's Center for Reproductive Health, led a team of researchers in identifying a gene that plays a part in sperm development.

A gene called Katnal1 is essential for allowing sperm to fully develop. Finding a way to regulate the Katnal1 gene in the testes might mean finding a way to stop sperm from fully maturing.

According to the researchers' paper, "loss of function of Katnal1 leads to male-specific infertility." An immature sperm would prevent successful fertilization - thus preventing pregnancy - and it wouldn't mess around with a man's hormone levels.

Currently used chemical male contraception generally requires interrupting the creation of hormones like testosterone, but the side effects of these hormone-based contraceptives can be frustrating, including irritability, mood swings and acne.

Understanding how Katnal1 works might also provide insights into male infertility related to the gene's functioning.

"Such information will have resonance both for future treatment of male fertility and the development of non-hormonal male contraceptives," the authors wrote.

Smith's team demonstrated the infertility of male mice when their Katnat1 genes were modified.

Another possible advantage to manipulating the Katnal1 gene to prevent sperm maturity is that stopping the treatment that alters Katnal1 can be stopped without affecting new sperm.

"The important thing is that the effects of such a drug would be reversible because Katnal1 only affects sperm cells in the later stages of development, so it would not hinder the early stages of sperm production and the overall ability to produce sperm," Dr. Smith said.

The study appeared online May 24 in the journal PLoS Genetics. The authors were funded by the United Kingdom Medical Research Council Programme and the National Health and Medical Research Council. The authors declared no competing interests.

Review Date: 
June 5, 2012