Semen doesn’t just ferry sperm. It also bears a mystery ingredient that turns on ovulation in some animals and may even pump up fertility in humans as well.
The molecule, nerve growth factor, kick-starts egg release and revs up pregnancy-protective hormones in llamas, researchers report online August 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Llama semen is loaded with NGF, says study coauthor and veterinarian Gregg Adams of the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada. The protein is also found in the semen of bulls and humans.
“If we find that NGF is also effective in women, it will obviously have huge implications for treating male infertility conditions,” says reproductive biologist Raj Duggavathi of McGill University’s campus in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Canada. “It could be a big boost for couples.”
Even though human females ovulate regularly, sometimes women’s bodies gear up for egg release at odd times during their cycle. “I want to know what happens if seminal plasma is absorbed at that time,” Adams says. “Will it cause ovulation?” If a timely dose of semen does nudge an egg’s release, he says, “It could be why we sometimes call couples who practice the rhythm method parents.”
In addition to tweaking ovulation timing, NGF could boost growth of the pregnancy-protecting corpus luteum in humans. If NGF can cultivate the gland the way it does in llamas, cattle, and mice, it’s possible that frequent sex — and thus a steady supply of semen — during early pregnancy could help prevent miscarriage.
The idea “is not crazy at all,” Adams says.
Source: Science News / Meghan Rosen
Photo Credit: G. Adams/Univ. of Saskatchewan
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