Scientists have discovered a compound that could pave the way for effective and hormone-free birth control pills for men.
“There has not been a new reversible contraceptive for men since the development of the condom, centuries ago,” noted William Bremner from the University of Washington in a commentary on the research.
The research was led by Dr. Martin M. Matzuk, director of the new Center for Drug Discovery and vice chair of pathology & immunology at Baylor College of Medicine, and Dr. James E. Bradner of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston. Their research was published in the scientific journal Cell.
Matzuk and Bradner found that a compound, called JQ1, decreased the amount and quality of sperm produced by mice by inhibiting a testis-specific protein called BRDT. The compound binds to BRDT, which is involved in the generation of sperm, and blocks the normal process by which sperm are made.
When JQ1 was given to mice, the result was a severely reduced sperm count. The sperm that were still produced had very limited mobility, giving them slim chances of traveling through the uterus and fertilizing an ovum. The mice, however, still mated normally.
The effects of the compound appeared to be reversible and without adverse consequences for the rodents’ testosterone levels. Once mice had stopped being administered JQ1, their sperm returned to normal.
The compound itself is unlikely to end up in a contraceptive pill, because it interacts with other chemicals in the body. But the finding shows that inhibiting BRDT could be an effective contraceptive method for men.
“JQ1 is not the pill for men, because it also binds other members of the bromodomain family,” Matzuk said. “However, the data is proof of principle that BRDT is an excellent target for male contraception and provides us with useful information for future drug development.”
A number of researchers have been pursuing new forms of male contraception. Scientists have considered everything from drugs to block production of retinoic acid — a compound necessary for normal creation of sperm — to zapping testicles with ultrasound. The anticancer drug gamendazole has also been considered as a potential hormone-free male contraceptive pill, because it produces infertility.
[Birth control pills via Shutterstock]