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Sperm development and function

Activation of the oocyte at fertilization is a fundamental developmental event and in mammals is associated with a critical rise in intracellular egg calcium that manifests as a series of characteristic oscillations. Current research strongly suggests that the protein responsible is a sperm-specific phospholipase C with distinctive properties, PLCζ. We investigate how the expression, structure, and function of this, and other sperm proteins, might influence fertility.

We investigate how PLCζ, and other sperm proteins interacting with the oocyte at fertilisation, might be related to certain types of male infertility including oocyte activation deficiency, total fertilisation failure, or recurrent ICSI failure (a condition that affects approximately 1200 couples in the UK each year). We are also investigating the potential role of proteins inside the oocyte, which might interact with PLCζ and other sperm proteins, in order to induce activation. This work aims to develop new diagnostic tests and therapeutic strategies.

Sperm

Other projects are developing nanoparticle-mediated systems to deliver engineered protein constructs, or other molecular agents, into mammalian gametes or embryos in experimental scenarios. Such methods could provide a useful tool for studying or manipulating target proteins during fertilization and early embryogenesis, and may, in future, provide an effective means of delivering targeted clinical agents.

Nano

We are also developing ways of coupling infra-red laser technology with molecular expression techniques in order to investigate or manipulate key pathways underlying gamete form and function.