RH-FC2: Infertility and membrane fusion – The role of Syncytin in membrane fusion of human egg and sperm cells

This study is performed at Rigshospitalet Fertility Clinic in collaboration with the fertility clinic in Malmø and University of Lund.

Despite initial fertility assessments of couples seeking fertility treatment, approximately 5 % of couples referred to in vitro fertilization (IVF) will experience total fertilization failure. IVF establish contact between the egg and sperm cells. The sperm cell, however, still has to penetrate the specialized extracellular matrix surrounding the developing oocyte (zona pellucida) and fuse with the membrane of the egg. For couples experiencing total fertilization failure, the failure may explained by the malfunction of this process.

The proteins Syncytin 1 and 2 and their receptors are present in human gametes and localization and temporal appearances are consistent with a possible role in fusion between oocyte and sperm. Syncytin is the best described fusion protein in humans and best known for its role various viral diseases like HIV. Given the presence of the proteins and receptors on sperm and egg cells respectively, this project hypothesizes that Syncytin is the key fusion protein involved in the membrane fusion between the sperm cell and egg.

The project aims to investigate the role of Syncytin in membrane fusion between the sperm cell and egg, and evaluate if the expression, availability or function of Syncytin relates to total fertilization failure for some couples.

This project falls into two parts – an in-vitro part where different assays to characterize Syncytin and its receptors and a clinical part, where syncytin and its functions will be studied in two groups of patients – one in males with successful fertilization and one in males from couples with complete failure to fertilize.

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