Ovulation-inducing factor in alpaca semen

Purification of ovulating-inducing factor (OIF) in alpaca seminal plasma for research and product Development

Principal investigator:

Gregg P. Adams, DVM, PhD.
Western College of Veterinary Medicine
University of Saskatchewan, Canada

Publication Resulting from this Work:

The Nerve of Ovulation-inducing Factor in Semen
Marcelo H. Ratto, Yvonne A. Leduc, Ximena P. Valderrama, Karin E. van Straaten, Louis T. J. Delbaere, Roger A. Pierson, and Gregg P. Adams

For a male animal to pass on his genes, he must create sperm. However, the fluid which carries sperm — semen — contains much more than just sperm cells. The surrounding seminal fluid is a complex mix of sugars, lipids, proteins and vitamins. Males require several accessory sex glands to create this soup of chemicals. The sheer complexity of semen and the presence of these sex glands had puzzled researchers for years. Some males use the chemical mix in seminal fluid to create a mating plug — a gooey clump that blocks the female's reproductive tract to prevent other males' sperm from gaining entry. However, male animals that do not use mating plugs still have functioning accessory glands, so they must serve a different function. In 1985, a group of Chinese researchers found that when camel seminal fluid was injected into female camels, they ovulated, even when no sexual activity had occurred. The researchers claimed that there was a chemical present in the fluid that stimulated ovulation. For 20 years their claim was ignored.

In 2005, Gregg Adams, a veterinarian at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, successfully repeated the Chinese experiment in llamas. He and his colleagues at the Universidad Austral de Chile in Valdivia, Chile, then spent the next seven years trying to find the mystery chemical in semen that triggered egg release. They collected and purified semen from llamas and injected various components into females to see if they would ovulate. The protein they tracked down as the one responsible for ovulation turned out to be both surprising and familiar. The stimulatory chemical is a protein called — nerve growth factor, or NGF, which had been known to function in the brain to keep neurons alive. NGF from semen appears to send signals to the female llama brain that result in ovulation. Though animal semen (including human semen) was known to be rich in NGF, no one had ever connected the protein to semen's stimulatory effect. (Currently it is unknown if the protein affects ovulation in humans.) The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences August 20, 2012.