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The World in Medicine
May 14, 2003

Scent of an Ovum

JAMA. 2003;289(18):2349. doi:10.1001/jama.289.18.2349-a

Scientists from Germany and the United States have discovered an odor receptor on the surface of human sperm that helps them navigate toward a chemical attractant, a finding that helps explain why sperm swim towards an egg, a critical step in the fertilization process. (Science. 2003;299:2054-2058).

Researchers from Rohr University Bochum in Germany and the University of California, Los Angeles, tested the response of embryonic kidney cells genetically engineered to express the olfactory receptor, hOR17-4, as well as sperm cells (which naturally express hOR17-4) to several chemicals. They found that a synthetic compound called bourgeonal activates sperm, signaling them to swim toward the source of the chemical. Another compound called undecanal blocks this signaling process and prevents sperm from responding to bourgeonal's signal.

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