Summer is here! We can finally enjoy the lovely warm weather, the beach, patios, BBQs, and anything outside. While we welcome back June and summer, it would also be appropriate to honor Juno, the Roman Goddess, the Queen of Roman Gods that the month of June is named after.
She was known to be the protector of the people of Rome, especially the women. Rome women prayed to Juno to protect their marriages and grant them with healthy pregnancies. She was the wife of Jupiter, the God of sky and light. According to the legend, Jupiter had his daughter, Minerva by splitting his head open. Juno who was jealous that Jupiter didn’t need her and decided to bear a child without a man’s help. She sought the help of Flora, the Goddess of vegetation. Flora gave Juno a magical flower, and Juno became pregnant just by touching it. Juno is known for her vital force, vital energy, and eternal youthfulness.
Not coincidentally, Juno was chosen to be the name of a protein on the surface of the mammalian egg, also known as folate receptor 4, folate receptor delta or IZUMO1R. Juno plays an essential role in fertilization, the sequence of coordinated molecular events initiated by the sperm merging with the egg.
For fertilization to occur, the sperm first must digest through the cumulus cells, a cluster of cells that surround the ovulated egg. Then, sperm binds to a specific receptor on the outer shell of the egg, the zona pellucida. After the sperm penetrates the shell, it can finally bind to the outer egg membrane (oolemma) through the interaction of Juno and its sperm-riding counterpart, IZUMO1. This interaction initiates fertilization and sperm head can release its genetic content into the centre of the egg. The sperm and egg chromosomes come together, and the egg is now officially fertilized. Without IZUMO1-Juno interaction fertilization just cannot happen. Scientists discovered the sperm protein IZUMO1 in 2005, but its egg counterpart remained a mystery until recently identified in 2014 by British scientists' led by Gavin Wright.
Wright and his team demonstrated that Mammalian egg cells lacking Juno on their surface cannot merge with healthy sperm and therefore are infertile. This finding may explain why simple IVF technologies cannot work in women who lack Juno. These women can benefit from Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), a procedure in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg. ICSI was first used in early the 1990’s. ICSI has been successfully applied since, mainly in the treatment of severe male infertility.
In addition, Wright and his team found that after the initial binding of sperm and egg, Juno protein shuts down, becoming undetectable after 40 minutes. This discovery may explain why sperm cells cannot penetrate an egg after fertilization. This mechanism is protecting the organism from polyspermy. Polyspermy describes a condition where more than one sperm fertilizes the egg. Such condition results in an abnormal number of chromosomes copies (three or more copies of each chromosome). Polyspermy often results in non-viable fertilization.
The discovery of the Juno protein is very exciting as it can help us understand infertility better. One of the future biomedical application of Juno's discovery is to use Juno as a fertility diagnostic test. This test could predict infertility in women by detecting Juno gene or protein in a blood test.
Another biomedical application could be using a vaccine or drug to block Juno protein from binding to its sperm counterpart. This would stop the fertilization process and could lead to a novel non-hormonal contraceptive.
Juno is a vital protein in fertilization; associated with technological innovation and a fierce but compassionate Goddess. With that in mind, we couldn't have thought of a better name for our clinic - 'Juno fertility' (Also having a Goddess on your side can't hurt too…)
We are Juno Fertility, and we are looking forward to guiding you through your journey.