Editors' ChoiceReproductive Biology

Defender of Fertility

Sci. Signal.  19 Aug 2014:
Vol. 7, Issue 339, pp. ec221
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.2005808

Defensins are a type of proteins that are produced by the human (and other animal) body to help fight off bacterial infections. Previous studies have demonstrated an association between male infertility and the presence of infection-fighting white blood cells in the semen, suggesting that infections may be somehow associated with infertility. Now, a study by Diao et al. explains this connection by showing that a specific type of defensin found in sperm plays a dual role, helping to fight off bacterial infection and promoting sperm motility. The authors also demonstrate a possible way to exploit this finding by treating sperm with recombinant defensin to increase the probability of successful in vitro fertilization.

R. Diao, K. L. Fok, H. Chen, M. K. Yu, Y. Duan, C. M. Chung, Z. Li, H. Wu, Z. Li, H. Zhang, Z. Ji, W. Zhen, C. F. Ng, Y. Gui, Z. Cai, H. C. Chan, Deficient human β-defensin 1 underlies male infertility associated with poor sperm motility and genital tract infection Sci. Transl. Med. 6, 249ra108 (2014). [Abstract]