Shock Study: Looking to Trigger Ovulation? Scientists Now Say You Should Apply Some Semen to Your Vagina

By Anthony Smith on August 21, 2012 6:15 AM EDT

Sperm
Sperm (Photo: Creative Commons)

In what may be the most shocking and disgusting tip ever given, a recent study suggests that a newly discovered protein found in mammal semen can cause female mammals to enter ovulation.

Though it has been proven to trigger a sudden period of ovulation, this protein, which was first found in llama semen by intrepid scientists and has since been found in multiple other species including humans, has an uncertain effect on how fertile a biological female is.

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In cows, however, scientists have confirmed that the new protein could play a strong role in keeping bovine pregnancies going strong. They suspect that the same could be said for humans, but have not tested this theory to satisfaction just yet.

"The whole idea of having a chemical substance in the seminal plasma in the male affecting the female's brain and causing her to ovulate is really new for us," stated Gregg Adams, a contributing researcher to the study and a professor at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.

Dr. Adams and his team share their findings with the rest of the scientific world today in the seminal journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to Adams, when it comes to ovulation, mammals divide up into two groups. The first group is called spontaneous ovulators, or mammals such as humans who have a more regular menstrual cycle. These types of mammals dispose of their egg cells with an almost clockwork-like regularity, absent of whether or not they've recently copulated.

The other group is called induced ovulators, and it includes certain species, such as llamas and camels, who only release their eggs in response to sex.

Think about what would happen if you entered PMS every time you got in the mood. That's what camels and llamas go through.

Or so scientists thought until 2005, when Adams and his team discovered that the stimulation of the vagina was not, in fact, the impetus for induced ovulation. His groundbreaking study discovered a protein termed ovulation-inducing factor that can be found steeped inside the seminal fluids of various induced ovulates.

This aptly named protein does exactly what you think it would, and camels and llamas are able to reproduce all thanks to it.

What's fascinating about this new protein is that it appears to trigger ovulation even in spontaneous ovulates, a seeming contradiction in terms up until now. They've since located this new protein in both the semen of llamas, the aforementioned species of induced ovulates, and more bizarrely in cattle, a species of spontaneous ovulators.

In fact, upon further study, the scientists found the new protein in every single mammal they study, in species as disparate as pigs and mice. A biochemical analysis of this new protein confirmed that it was identical to a nerve growth factor, which had since been thought to only act on local nerves in an effort to maintain the body's nerve cells.

Now, according to Adams's study, it's indisputable that nerve growth factor plays a role in the reproductive system as well. In fact, once it enters the vagina and the uterus, there's no stopping it: it enters one's circulation and swims all the way up to your hypothalamus and pituitary gland, starting a hormonal response that ultimately ends with ovulation.

"This is a new method of action for nerve growth factor," Adams said, "We never thought it could pass the blood-brain barrier."

And though it's clear what this new ovulation-inducing factor is doing in an induced ovulator, the mystery remains what this protein is doing in spontaneous ovulates. A deeper study suggested that, rather than directly causing ovulation, it influenced follicle growth in the ovaries.

Perhaps its most tremendous effect on the reproductive system is its affect on the growth of the corpus luteum, a relatively small structure that forms from the collapsed follicle post-menstruation which produced progesterone, a hormone essential for maintaining pregnancy.

In other words, in cattle, semen actually helps make a pregnancy healthy. In fact, as Adams said, "a lack of progesterone is implicated in sub-fertility in a lot of species, including [human] women."

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