Semen protein found to prompt ovulation

New findings from the University of Saskatchewan about mammal fertility are expected to draw interest from researchers in a variety of disciplines.

However, the researcher who led the project says he has cattle producers in mind.

A team headed by Gregg Adams of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine studying seminal fluid has identified a protein in semen that prompts ovulation, triggering hormones that signal release of an egg.

The project could lead to therapeutic products for sub-fertile livestock, but Adams said the findings may also pique the interest of researchers studying human nervous systems.

“My bent has always been towards large animals, and cattle is the primary focus of my research,” said Adams, who began his career as a large animal practitioner.

“So, yeah, this has led me in other directions, but fundamentally I have an interest in seeing how our re-search results can influence production animals.”

While profiling this protein, Adams said the group learned that its discovery — dubbed ovulation-inducing factor — is the same molecule that regulates nerve growth, something already probed by neuroscientists.

However, the connection between a protein in the nervous system associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and one in semen had never been made.

“Nerve growth factor is something that’s produced locally by nerves, and all the literature would suggest it has a very local effect. One nerve produces it. It has an effect on that nerve and some neighbouring nerves throughout the body, but this is actually in the seminal fluid,” said Adams.

“It gets absorbed by the vagina and the uterus of the female, goes into circulation and affects the brain of the female and that’s a totally new mechanism that we never knew of before.”

The effects of ovulation-inducing factor may differ among species. An international team of researchers has identified it in all 10 mammal species it has tested, including llamas, cattle, humans and koalas.

In cattle, Adams said researchers have learned that ovulation-inducing factor has a different influence than it does in induced ovulates such as llamas. While it doesn’t force ovulation, it does assist in the development of the gland that produces progesterone, which is required for the maintenance of pregnancy.

He said further research could result in products to improve fertility.

“It may come to initiate a change in the industry, where they pay more attention to the seminal plasma as an important component of the semen dose. The other thing would be actually the development of some pharmaceuticals,” said Adams. “That’s not in the works right now, but maybe if I have some interested and wealthy investor, we’ll get going on that right away.”

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