April 12, 2010
URBANA, Ill.A new study from the University of Illinois suggests a link between low levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and male infertility.
In our experiment, we used knockout mice that lacked the gene responsible for an enzyme important in making docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In the absence of DHA, male mice are basically infertile, producing few if any misshaped sperm that cant get where they need to go, said Manabu Nakamura, a U of I associate professor of food science and human nutrition.
According to the findings published in the February issue of the Journal of Lipid Research, in the DHA-deficient knockout mice, sperm counts were extremely low. The sperm that were produced were round instead of elongated and unable to move well. When DHA was introduced into the diet, fertility was completely restored.
The DHA study is part of the researchers efforts to understand the function of the omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. As part of that work, they have developed a mouse model to help them understand a particular fats physiological role. By knocking out genes, they can create deficiencies of the fats they are interested in and learn about their functions.
Nakamura said the body must make DHA from dietary alpha-linolenic acids, the parent compound of the omega-3 fatty acid family. Vegetable oils, including soybean and canola oil, are good sources of alpha-linolenic acid.
We get hints from looking at sperm in the DHA-deficient animals about what type of pathology we may be looking at and why these polyunsaturated fatty acids are important. But were still at the starting point in understanding the mechanisms that are involved, and we need to do more research at the cellular level, he said.
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