The race is on (or off): sperm can accelerate


Sperm have a short, if not interesting, little life. They actually live on a kind of energy arc, starting off slowly out of the gate then gaining momentum as they hit the female’s body and the finish line comes into sight. They must reserve their energy or become too fatigued too early to find the egg. Scientists have long known that the sperms’ internal ph factors triggered the change in pace, but now they know why. It’s a fascinating evolutionary trait.

Researchers report in the February 5 issue of the medical journal Cell, they have located the channel on the sperm which allow the tiny cells to rid themselves of protons and accelerate in the process. This happens once sperm reach the female’s body and they sense the chemical change. They then dump protons which alter their internal chemistry from acidic to alkaline and boom - they go into warp drive.

The findings of course suggest new ways of controlling male fertility both for pregnancy and pregnancy prevention.

“The concentration of protons inside the [sperm] cell is 1000 times higher than outside,” said Yuriy Kirichok of the University of California, San Francisco. All researchers need to do is identify the molecule that releases the protons and they can boost the sperm speed or cause it to flame out early, leaving its reproductive potential in the dust.

Kirichok said there are a lot of conditions that open the pores and cause the proton evacuation: alkaline conditions and removal of zinc outside the cell would do it. They also open up when the endocannabinoid known as anandamide is present. This is a substance in both male and female reproductive tracts, but is particularly concentrated around the egg which is a meaningful location for another booster shot to sperm speed.

Interestingly, endocannabinoids are so named because they act on the same neural receptors as marijuana. This may explain why men who smoke marijuana regularly have lower fertility rates. Since cannabis is aready present in the male pot smokers body, the sperm is getting a booster shot out of the gate, and dies before getting to the egg. “Marijuana likely activates sperm prematurely, leaving them burnt out in a matter of hours,” Kirichok said.

Kirichok pointed out the importance of the findings in a number of areas, for fertilization or male contraception, even treating male infertility suggested by marijuana use. It’s a big step in an endlessly fascinating reproduction race.

Source: Medical News Today


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