Contraceptives, also known as birth controls, are extremely important in reducing unintended pregnancies and abortions, as well as improving maternal health and decreasing infant mortality. Oral contraceptive pills, in particular, are especially popular due to their convenience and non-invasiveness. However, they are currently only available for women, which begs the question: where are the pills for men? There have been many efforts in developing male oral contraceptive pills that can suppress sperm production, but they are often met with an undesirable, yet prevailing, problem: testis shrinkage. While there have been reports of a potential hormonal oral pill for men, they still come with many side effects such as weight gain and loss of sex drive. Therefore, the market of male oral pills is still very scarce and unexplored. 

Recently, a group of scientists from the US and China reported the discovery of a compound that, rather than suppressing sperm production altogether, disables the function of sperm in mice and monkeys. The compound, known as triptonide, was purified from a Chinese herb called Tripterygium Wilfordii Hook F, which had been previously shown to cause infertility in patients. It turned out that triptonide, when fed to mice and monkeys, caused sperm to deform and thus lose their function. This effect could be sustained for months with no obvious toxicity or side effects for the animals. Importantly, the effect was also reversible; when the animals stopped taking the compound, their fertility was regained after a few weeks. Therefore, triptonide’s efficient, reversible, and non-toxic ability to deform and inactivate sperm proved its potential as a male contraceptive drug candidate.

The researchers next sought to figure out how triptonide inactivated sperms. They tested the compound’s ability to bind against every single protein found in the mice’s testis, and discovered that triptonide was able to bind to a protein called junction plakoglobin (JUP). JUP is a protein that interacts and helps with other key proteins in the sperm during the final stages of sperm cell development, also known as spermiogenesis. Thus, binding to JUP disrupts its function, which also affects the other critical proteins during sperm cell development, ultimately resulting in a defect in the final produced sperm cell. This discovery not only shed light on the mechanism of triptonide, but also opened up a whole new possibility of male contraceptives: we now know that, in addition to the conventional approach of suppressing sperm production, targeting spermiogenesis may be a viable method for future drug development.

Overall, this study presented triptonide as a promising male contraceptive drug candidate. Even though this compound is yet to be tested in humans, the results from this paper were still useful in confirming the approach of disabling sperms, rather than suppressing sperm production, for male contraceptives. This could potentially expand the areas of research and development for male oral contraceptive pills. Currently, the burden of contraception lies mostly on women, which unfairly forces women to assume the brunt of any financial, health-related, or social stresses that may come with contraception. With a promising drug candidate for a male oral pill in sight, a future with a more just contraceptive arrangement may be closer.

Three of the co-authors, Zong-liang Chang, Huili Zheng, and Kathleen Schegg, are from the University of Nevada. Zong-liang Chang was a graduate student, Huili Zheng is a research assistant professor, while Kathleen Schegg is a research biochemist. Weibing Qin, another co-author of the paper, is an associate professor from the NHC Key Laboratory of Male Reproduction and Genetics at Guangzhou, China.

Managing Correspondent: Wei Li

Press Article: Natural compound exhibits almost ideal male contraceptive effects in pre-clinical studies, Medical Xpress.

Nature: New compound for male contraceptive pill, ScienceDaily.

Original Article: Triptonide is a reversible non-hormonal male contraceptive agent in mice and non-human primates, Nature Communications.

Image Credit: Gundula Vogel from Pixabay

17 thoughts on “A Potential Male Oral Birth Control Pill may be on the Horizon

  1. Hi! Thanks for the article, the topic of contraception is really very relevant. I agree that these issues are often burdensome for women. Real men need to take responsibility. In my opinion, the most optimal is the use of condoms. This method of contraception will not have side effects, which is not the case with oral contraceptives. Understanding these issues is very important because it is directly related to the physical and emotional health of both women and men.

    1. So what does a man do when the woman says she’s taking her pill every day or has an IUD or diaphragm when she doesn’t? They often get pregnant on purpose to entrap a guy, and that’s a well known fact. A safe, effective male birth control pill would be a godsend but be careful trusting anything from China until it has been proven to be safe and effective.

      1. Fred, you’re the guy that Ron is telling to take responsibility. Use condoms. Your partner being on contraception or not does not in any way affect your ability to wear a condom. Also, condoms protect from STDs/STIs. Win-win.

  2. ” side effects such as weight gain and loss of sex drive”
    … you mean, exactly like women’s hormonal birth control? So that’s acceptable enough for women but not for men?

    1. OK imagine this with women you’re trying to stop one egg every month or so with men we are constantly producing sperm in the thousands so if you try to go about it the same methods as you do women you’re going to end up with side effects that are increased by a lot

    2. Yeah, men and women are different and have different priorities and make different choices. Why do you think men and women should think the same way about hormonal side effects? Generallyspeaking, a loss of libido is going to be a much bigger concern for men than women and weight gain will be a lesser concern for men than women.

  3. I have 3 sons and I find it completely ridiculous that the only options I have as a mother is telling them about abstinence or condoms! It’s 2021!!! Cmon man!

  4. It’s hilarious that the side effects of weight gain and lowered sex drive is basically a deal breaker for a male contraceptive, when women’s birth control has way worse side-effects than that..
    It’s a joke.

    1. OK imagine this with women you’re trying to stop one egg every month or so with men we are constantly producing sperm in the thousands so if you try to go about it the same methods as you do women you’re going to end up with side effects that are increased by a lot

      1. But women would still suffer worse side effects, as we’re the ones who experience periods. Also, female birth control might cause unsafe pregnancies that happen outside of the ovaries (although I know this can happen anyways). If you pulled up a list of female birth control side effects, you’d see that just two side effects for men is way better than those that we have.

        1. gotta love that gigantic roadmap of risks and side effects that come with the tiny ass paragraph of actual instructions with the pills….

      2. Um…. changes in sex drive weight gain, etc are side effects unacceptable for men but completely and totally acceptable for women…

      3. Sperm are exponentially more numerous than eggs, but birth control doesn’t target sperm or eggs. Birth control targets hormones, so there is no reason the number of gametes each sex produces would have any effect on the number of side effects. Female birth control doesn’t just regulate women’s hormones during their period; it regulates their hormones everyday. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t work. The same will be true for men. In testing so far, it actually seems that side effects (both positive and negative) have been remarkably similar.

  5. When do we think this will be Available to people? Birth control for women has too many side effects and vasectomys can reverse but their too expensive and might not work if your trying to conceive.

  6. In this era, birth control is one of the prominent issues for couples. Cause, physical birth control having many problems including less pleasure to the couple. In the same time, female oral birth control may have many side effects to their regular period. Consequently, male oral birth control pill will be a blessings

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