WEDNESDAY, Feb. 15, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Successful sperm use their tails to make one final jump into the egg -- and new research is revealing just how it happens.
A protein called CatSper1 is crucial to the ability of sperm to suddenly switch their tail movement from a smooth swimming motion to the sharp snap that thrusts them into the ovum, U.S. researchers report in the current issue of the journal Nature.
The discovery could lead to new avenues of research into male infertility or contraceptives that might block sperm from entering an egg, say the researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Chevy Chase, Md.
Using an analytical technique to study electrical currents inside sperm, the researchers discovered that CatSper1 was a major component of the cellular calcium ion channel -- a mechanism that's largely responsible for proper sperm movement and male fertility.
"It's like opening a chamber in an ancient pyramid, because no one had ever seen inside sperm cells to measure all the currents that control their activity," researcher David E. Clapham said in a prepared statement.
"We are already measuring many of these currents and beginning to answer questions about what they are and what they do," he said.
Clapham said he and his colleagues plan to do further studies examining electrical currents and other inner workings of sperm.
The National Institutes of Health has more about infertility.