Molecule offers insights into fertilization

In research with potential implications for both increasing fertilization and preventing pregnancies, UCLA biologists and German cell physiologists report in the journal Science that they have isolated and identified a molecule that attracts sperm.

"Potentially, this research could promote fertilization, and could lead to a new generation of non-toxic contraceptives that would not require women to take hormones," said Richard Zimmer, a UCLA professor of biology, and one of the authors of the March 28 Science paper.

Zimmer and his colleagues have identified a molecule that controls the navigation of sperm cells, and the genes that code for that molecule, which may play a critical role in the fertilization process. Bourgeonal is the molecule that activates the human sperm receptor protein, the scientists report.

The research team includes UCLA graduate student Jeffrey Riffell; Hanns Hatt, a professor at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany; Marc Spehr, a postdoctoral scholar in Hatt's research laboratory; and Gunter Gisselmann, Alexandra Poplawski and Christian Wetzel, all members of Hatt's laboratory.

Zimmer's research is federally funded by the National Science Foundation.

Last May, Zimmer's research team identified a molecule, called tryptophan, that attracts sperm when released by female eggs of abalone -- research published as the cover article in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Zimmer, Riffell and UCLA postdoctoral scholar Patrick Krug isolated tryptophan, and determined its function. In the March 28 issue of Science, Zimmer's team and his German colleagues report that bourgeonal is the human counterpart to tryptophan.

"Sexual reproduction and fertilization are controlled to a significant degree by chemical communication, and we are filling in important pieces of the chemical communication puzzle," Zimmer said. "For the first time, we have been able to verify experimentally that tryptophan promotes rates of fer

Contact: Stuart Wolpert
University of California - Los Angeles

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