The protein HFM1 helps hold chromosomes in place so they can be divided properly, Pezza said.
If something goes wrong and the chromosomes fall apart prematurely, it can cause the cells to divide with the wrong number of chromosomes.
If that happens, it can cause birth defects or spontaneous abortions.
And if the gene that makes the protein is missing or mutated, it can cause infertility.
HFM1 also plays a part in DNA repair, so if it is damaged or missing in adults, it could play a part in cancer development, he said.
“We think this information will lead to new diagnostics that could test for infertility, reproductive safety or cancer risk,” Pezza said.
“It also holds the potential to be developed into new therapies to treat infertility.”
The research was funded by grant No. R01GM087516 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, and by a grant from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.
Greg Elwell is a public affairs specialist at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.