Researchers find key to preserving fertility during chemotherapy

One of the most significant impairments of the quality of life after a chemotherapy is infertility. Researchers have now identified the mechanism of chemotherapy-induced infertility in females.

While men produce new sperm cells throughout their life, women are born with a finite number of oocytes (egg cells). This pool of oocytes can be depleted prematurely by chemotherapy, resulting in early menopause. This results not only in infertility but also in hormone-based problems such as osteoporosis.

Scientists at the Institute for Biophysical Chemistry of Goethe University have now deciphered the mechanism leading to premature loss of the oocyte pool caused by treatment with chemotherapy. DNA damage caused by chemo- or radiotherapy results in the modification of a specific protein, which triggers enzymes in the body to the eliminate the oocyte.

These results, published in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, offer new opportunities for developing a therapy for preserving oocytes of female cancer patients treated with chemotherapeutics. In experiments with mouse ovaries, inhibiting the identified enzymes saved the oocytes from cell death, despite treatment with chemotherapeutics.

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