Imperial College London Logo Though pregnancy is considered to be a normal phase in a woman’s life, about 1 in 6 women have trouble getting pregnant, while 1 in 100 women are prone to recurrent miscarriages. Outlining this aspect, scientists from Imperial College London have uncovered an enzyme which behaves like a fertility switch for women.

High levels of this protein are apparently linked to infertility while low levels could imply more likelihood of miscarriage. These revelations hold significance in the realms of infertility and repeated miscarriages. Experts hope that this analysis may also help in developing new contraceptives.

As part of the research, tissue samples obtained from the womb lining donated by 106 women who are presently undergoing treatment for infertility and persistent loss of pregnancy, were examined. Eliminating the obvious causes, the team spotted high levels of the enzyme SGK1 in the womb lining of women experiencing infertility.

Contrarily, women suffering from repeated miscarriage seemed to have low levels of the same enzyme. There were further trials conducted with mice to comprehend the importance of the enzyme SGK1. The rats appeared to show a decline in SGK1 levels during the fertile window phase. When additional copies of the SGK1 gene were transfixed onto the womb lining, the mice were seemingly unable to get pregnant implying that a drop in SGK1 levels is vital for making the uterus responsive to embryos.

Professor Jan Brosens, Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology (IRDB) at Imperial College London shared, “Our experiments on mice suggest that a temporary loss of SGK1 during the fertile window is essential for pregnancy, but human tissue samples show that they remain high in some women who have trouble getting pregnant. I can envisage that in the future, we might treat the womb lining by flushing it with drugs that block SGK1 before women undergo IVF. Another potential application is that increasing SGK1 levels might be used as a new method of contraception.”

However, a treatment that impedes SGK1 ought to be ineffective in the long run as low levels of the protein after pregnancy is linked to loss of the fetus. Along same lines, when the researchers created a barrier for the gene that codes for SGK1 in mice, they apparently did not face any problem in getting pregnant. But, they appeared to have trivial litters and bleeding in the uterus implicating that absence of SGK1 could lead to miscarriage.

The possible explanation for this was that low amounts of SGK1 made the womb lining sensitive to cellular stress, thus causing pregnancy loss. The team has plans of taking biopsies of the womb lining in the future to gauge other abnormalities associated with pregnancy complications.

The research is published in the journal, Nature Medicine.