Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory aretrying to determine if disrupting the way DNA is packaged insperm can temporarily halt fertility.

The DNA found in sperm is wrapped in a protein calledprotamine, which keeps the DNA from being damaged whenthe sperm is transported to an egg. Lawrence Livermorescientist Rod Balhorn has found that some men with naturallyoccurring infertility have deficiencies in the DNA packagingprotein called protamine 2.

If changing the packaging blocks fertility, the next step wouldbe to develop a drug that blocks the action of an enzymeinvolved in packaging the sperm.

A Lawrence Livermore representative explained that unlikeoral contraceptives for women and other approaches to maleoral contraceptives that involve altering hormone balance, thedisruption of sperm packaging would not produce side effectsin other parts of the body.

Balhorn and his colleagues are conducting research with an$183,000 grant from Lawrence Livermore of Livermore, Calif.They are now genetically engineering mice to produce a proteinthat disrupts their sperm DNA packaging. If the disruptionresults in sterility, Balhorn said, "we're almost certain we cancome up with a process that will work in humans." He expectsthe mice studies to be completed by next summer. -- BrendaSandburg

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