New research suggests a molecule that plays a critical role in sperm activity may provide a new target for a male contraceptive, as well as improving fertility treatment.
The so-called “proton channel” acts like a gateway that allows chemical changes which speed up a sperm cell’s tail movements.
If the gate opens too early, the sperm will exhaust itself before finding and fertilising an egg. On the other hand if it is blocked the sperm will not get the burst of energy it needs.
Scientists believe these effects could be harnessed to prevent conception.
On the other hand helping the gate to open at the right time could improve fertility.
The molecule, known as Hv1, consists of a pore that can open and close.
When it opens, proton ions - electrically charged atomic particles - flood out, causing the sperm’s internal environment to turn from acidic to alkaline. This provides the boost the sperm needs to swim to the “finish line”.
The research is reported in the journal Cell.