Researchers at the American Chemical Society noted that ouabain has been shown to curb fertility in men but its high toxicity levels make it unsuitable for this objective - perhaps until now.
It's been decades since oral contraceptives first became available for women - but, despite ongoing research, there's still no birth control pill for men.
"An attractive approach to develop a male contraceptive is the targeting of proteins that are essential for sperm fertility", the authors wrote in the new study.
A compound traditionally used by African hunters as poison on their arrows could be the key to male contraception. Prior clinical studies have shown that ouabain curbs fertility in men.
As ouabain can't be used by itself, the researchers designed a number of analogues that could bind to the protein without putting the heart at risk. It is a cardiac glycoside, meaning it belongs to a class of organic compounds that increase the output force of the heart and decrease its rate of contractions. Apart from this, it is also produced in the bodies of mammals in low doses to keep blood pressure under control.
The compound is beneficial when used as treatment for congestive heart failure but its high level of toxicity prevents it from being widely used.
Ouabain is most commonly obtained from the seeds of the Strophanthus gratus plant.
According to the report, ouabain disturbs the movement of sodium and calcium ions and binds to a protein that is critical in male fertility.
Researchers, including those from the University of Minnesota in the USA, set out to design ouabain analogs that are far more likely to bind to the alpha4 protein in sperm than to subunits found in heart tissue.
Scientists have discovered that a plant extract once used by African warriors in their poisonous arrows could be the key in developing a male birth control pill..
After a successful series of tests on the laboratory rodents, the team published the results in Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.