A group of Canadian and European researchers have unlocked the mystery of a gene with the potential to both regulate and block ovulation. The new study - a collaboration between the Universite de Montreal in Canada and the Institut de genetique et biologie moleculaire et cellulaire of the Universite de Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg, France - is published in the latest issue of the journal Genes and Development.
'Our findings demonstrate that the Lrh1 gene is essential in regulating ovulation,' said Bruce D. Murphy, director the Animal Research Centre at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and an adjunct professor of and obstetrics and gynaecology at the Faculty of Medicine of the Universite de Montreal. 'Until this point, the role of Lrh1 in female fertility was unclear, but we have found the gene regulates multiple mechanisms of ovulation and may affect fertilisation.'
To reach their conclusions, the research team developed a new type of genetically modified mouse whose Lrh1 gene was selectively blocked in the ovary. They found that deletion of the Lrh1 gene effectively stopped ovulation. 'This discovery means we can envision new contraceptives that selectively stop ovulation,' said Dr Murphy. 'If created, these new contraceptives would be more effective and produce less side-effects than current steroid-based forms of birth control.'
What's more, the findings could lead to the development of pharmaceuticals that activate the Lrh1 gene, which may prove critical in giving infertile couples hope in producing children. 'This is an important development, since 15 percent of couples are infertile,' said Dr Murphy. 'The widespread role of this gene in the ovary indicates that it may be targeted to stimulate ovulation and, eventually, conception.'