To understand what lies behind these initial findings, the team asked whether it is possible that the process of ovulation might rely on the very “harmful” substances destroyed by antioxidants – reactive oxygen species.
Further testing in mice showed that this is, indeed, the case. In one experiment, for instance, Dekel and her team treated some ovarian follicles with luteinizing hormone, the physiological trigger for ovulation, and others with hydrogen peroxide, a reactive oxygen species. The results showed hydrogen peroxide fully mimicked the effect of the ovulation-inducing hormone. This implies that reactive oxygen species that are produced in response to luteinizing hormone serve, in turn, as mediators for this physiological stimulus leading to ovulation.
Among other things, these results help fill in a picture of fertility and conception that has begun to emerge in recent years, in which it appears that these processes share a number of common mechanisms with inflammation. It makes sense, says Dekel, that substances which prevent inflammation in other parts of the body might also get in the way of normal ovulation, and so more caution should be exercised when administering such substances.
Much of Dekel’s research has focused on fertility – her previous results
are already helping some women become pregnant. Ironically, the new study has implications for those seeking the opposite effect. Dekel: “On the one hand, these findings could prove useful to women who are having trouble getting pregnant. On the other, further studies might show that certain antioxidants might be an effective means of birth control that could be safer than today’s hormone-based prevention.”
Dekel and her team are now planning further studies to investigate the exact mechanics of this step in ovulation and to examine antioxidant effects on mice when administered in either food or drink. In addition, they plan to collect data on the possible link between females, antioxidant supplements and difficulty in conceiving.
Prof. Nava Dekel's research is supported by the M.D. Moross Institute for Cancer Research; the Y. Leon Benoziyo Institute for Molecular Medicine; the Jeanne and Joseph Nissim Foundation for Life Sciences Research; the Yeda-Sela Center for Basic Research; the Willner Family Center for Vascular Biology Head; the Dwek Family Biomedical Research Fund; the Phyllis and Joseph Gurwin Fund for Scientific Advancement; the J&R Foundation; la Fondation Raphael et Regina Levy; and Allyson Kaye, UK. Prof. Dekel is the incumbent of the Philip M. Klutznick Professorial
Chair of Developmental Biology.