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11 January 2012
Omega-3 vital for strong sperm, say fertility experts
by George Atkinson

Scientists at the University of Illinois have discovered that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA - an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish), is vital for the creation of healthy, strong-swimming sperm. Marine fish, such as salmon or tuna, are excellent sources of this omega-3 fatty acid.

"Normal sperm cells contain an arc-like structure called the acrosome that is critical in fertilization because it houses, organizes, and concentrates a variety of enzymes that sperm use to penetrate an egg," said researcher Manabu Nakamura. The study, appearing in the journal Biology of Reproduction, shows for the first time that DHA is essential in fusing the building blocks of the acrosome together.

Nakamura became intrigued with DHA's role in creating healthy sperm after experimenting with "knockout" mice that lack a gene essential to its synthesis. "We looked at sperm count, shape, and motility, and tested the breeding success rate. The male mice that lacked DHA were basically infertile," Nakamura said. But when DHA was introduced into the mice's diet, fertility was completely restored. "It was very striking. When we fed the mice DHA, all these abnormalities were prevented."

He explained that with DHA present, the acrosome grows when small vesicles containing enzymes fuse together in an arc. But that fusion doesn't happen without DHA. "In the absence of DHA, the vesicles are formed but they don't come together to make the arch that is so important in sperm cell structure," he noted.

Nakamura believes the findings could also impact research into brain function and vision. "It's logical to hypothesize that DHA is involved in vesicle fusion elsewhere in the body, and because the brain contains so much of it, we wonder if deficiencies could play a role, for example, in the development of dementia. Any communication between neurons in the brain involves vesicle fusion," he noted.

Discuss this article in our forum
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Source: University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

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