New approaches for male fertility control: HE6 as an example of a putative target.
Gottwald U., Davies B., Fritsch M., Habenicht UF.
Reversible contraceptive methods for males are still not available. During the last few years several marketing studies have clearly shown that men and women would welcome a situation where men could assume responsibility for family planning. Schering AG and Organon are currently collaborating to develop a hormonal method for male fertility control based on the combination of etonogestrel as gestagenic component and testosterone undecanoate. To further optimize male contraceptives in terms of improved efficiency, rapid onset, reversibility, fewer side effects and a convenient method of application, a search for innovative non-hormonal approaches was started. During the last few years, numerous proteins were identified which play a specific role in male fertility. These proteins have first to fulfil a set of indication-specific criteria before a drug discovery process can be initiated. The most important criteria for a putative target protein are tissue-selective expression, crucial biological function in fertility, drugable properties and feasibility of assay development for high-throughput-screening and lead optimization. The G-protein-coupled receptor HE6 was selected as target and the above selection criteria were applied. HE6 displays a preferred epididymis-specific expression pattern and belongs to the superfamily of GPCRs, which are well known to be drugable with small molecules. A knockout mouse was generated which revealed an infertility phenotype with the onset occurring 6 weeks after initiation of spermatogenesis at the latest. Surprisingly, no epididymis-specific phenotype was observed. Instead, the reabsorption of testicular fluid along the efferent ducts was strongly affected. No further obvious side effects were observed in male or female mice. This study with HE6 exemplifies how targets for male contraception have to be validated before drug development can start.