Researchers identify protein in mice that helps prepare for healthy egg-sperm union

July 27, 2015

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health have discovered a protein that plays a vital role in healthy egg-sperm union in mice. The protein RGS2 can delay an egg's development into an embryo in order to allow time for sperm to arrive and merge with the egg in a healthy fertilization process. The embryo cannot survive without the male chromosomes.

"These findings show the critical role that the protein RGS2 plays in preserving the fertilizability of the ovulated egg," said Carmen Williams, M.D., Ph.D., lead researcher at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the NIH. "Other researchers have shown that RGS2 plays an important role in regulating heart function and blood pressure, but this is the first demonstration of the protein's significant role in fertilization."

Dr. Williams explained that the immature egg found in the ovary is not very good at rallying the necessary calcium signaling that is needed to respond to sperm. However, during the maturation process, the egg stores calcium, preparing it for fertilization. At fertilization, the sperm causes calcium to release within the egg, turning it into a developing embryo.

The mouse study, published online in the journal Development, shows that during maturation the egg synthesizes RGS2, which suppresses calcium signaling. This safety mechanism ensures that the egg does not begin releasing calcium and start developing before the sperm arrives. Beginning development too early prevents the egg from merging with the sperm.

The RGS2 protein is being looked at as a therapeutic target for hypertension and other heart ailments. "Understanding the role RGS2 plays in reproduction is important when considering the possible benefits and side effects of any new treatments, as well as understanding the impact that toxins might have on human fertility," said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program.
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NIEHS collaborated with the University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington; University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario; and the University of South Florida, Tampa, to conduct this research.

NIEHS supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health and is part of NIH. For more information on environmental health topics, visit http://www.niehs.nih.gov/. Subscribe to one or more of the NIEHS news lists to stay current on NIEHS news, press releases, grant opportunities, training, events, and publications.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

Grant Number: Z01ES102985

Reference: Bernhardt ML, Lowther KM, Padilla-Banks E, McDonough CE, Lee KN, Evsikov AV, Uliasz TF, Chidiac P, Williams CJ, Mehlmann LM. Regulator of G-protein signaling 2 (RGS2) suppresses premature calcium release in mouse eggs. Development; doi:10.1242/dev.121707 [Online 9 July 2015].

Contact:


Robin Mackar
919-541-0073
Rmackar@niehs.nih.gov

NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

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