Recent studies may provide added insight into the issue of unexplained infertility and offer the possibility of a new approach to treatment. Researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development were attempting to investigate premature ovarian failure when they discovered the “maternal effect” gene, or “Mater” gene in female mice.

The Mater gene in mice produces a protein gene necessary for a fertilized egg to develop. In mice with premature ovarian failure, it appeared as though an immune system attack on the protein produced by the Mater gene was the cause of the ovarian failure. Additionally, in female mice missing the Mater gene, fertilized eggs were unable to survive beyond the two-cell stage. The function of the protein was determined when researchers developed a strain of mice lacking both copies of the gene. They found that these mice were infertile.