By Rachael Rettner
A male form of “the pill” has stymied researchers for years, but now a new study finds that such male birth control may be possible by blocking a single protein in sperm cells.
In a mouse study, the researchers focused on a protein called calcineurin, which is found in the sperm-producing cells of the testes as well as other cells in the body.
The researchers genetically engineered mice so that they lacked a gene that makes part of the calcineurin protein but is activatedonly in sperm-producing cells. When these mice had sex, they were infertile, the researchers said. (This genetic engineering experiment was done as a proof of concept, to show that this gene affects sperm,)
In a separate experiment, the researchers treated the mice with two drugs that block calcineurin, called cyclosporine A and FK506. Both of these drugs are already used in patients who’ve had organ transplants to suppress the immune system and prevent the organ from being rejected by the body.
After about four to five days of treatment, the mice developed defects in their sperm and became infertile. But once the treatment was stopped, these defects went away, and the mice were fertile again within a week.
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