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Infertility affects one in seven couples globally and has recently been classified as a disease by the World Health Organisation (WHO). While in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) offers effective treatment for many infertile couples, cases exhibiting severe male infertility (19-57%) often remain difficult, if not impossible to treat. In such cases, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), a technique in which a single sperm is microinjected into the oocyte, is implemented. However, 1-5% of ICSI cycles still fail to fertilise, affecting over 1000 couples per year in the UK alone. Pregnancy and delivery rates for IVF and ICSI rarely exceed 30% and 23% respectively. It is therefore imperative that Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) protocols are constantly modified by associated research programmes, in order to provide patients with the best chances of conception. Prior to fertilisation, mature oocytes are arrested in the metaphase stage of the second meiotic division (MII), which must be alleviated to allow the cell cycle, and subsequent embryogenesis, to proceed. Alleviation occurs through a series of concurrent events, collectively termed 'oocyte activation'. In mammals, oocytes are activated by a series of intracellular calcium (Ca2+) oscillations following gamete fusion. Recent evidence implicates a sperm-specific phospholipase C, PLCzeta (PLCζ), introduced into the oocyte following membrane fusion as the factor responsible. This review summarises our current understanding of oocyte activation failure in human males, and describes recent advances in our knowledge linking certain cases of male infertility with defects in PLCζ expression and activity. Systematic literature searches were performed using PubMed and the ISI-Web of Knowledge. Databases compiled by the United Nations and World Health Organisation databases (UNWHO), and the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) were also scrutinised. It is clear that PLCζ plays a fundamental role in the activation of mammalian oocytes, and that genetic, molecular, or biochemical perturbation of this key enzyme is strongly linked to human infertility where oocyte activation is deficient. Consequently, there is significant scope for our understanding of PLCζ to be translated to the ART clinic, both as a novel therapeutic agent with which to rescue oocyte activation deficiency (OAD), or as a prognostic/diagnostic biomarker of oocyte activation ability in target sperm samples.

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Journal article


Cell Commun Signal

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