1. Developmental Biology
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A phenotypic screening platform utilising human spermatozoa identifies compounds with contraceptive activity

  1. Franz S Gruber
  2. Zoe C johnston
  3. Christopher LR Barratt  Is a corresponding author
  4. Paul D Andrews
  1. University of Dundee, United Kingdom
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Cite this article as: eLife 2020;9:e51739 doi: 10.7554/eLife.51739


There is an urgent need to develop new methods for male contraception, however a major barrier to drug discovery has been the lack of validated targets and the absence of an effective high-throughput phenotypic screening system. To address this deficit, we developed a fully-automated robotic screening platform that provided quantitative evaluation of compound activity against two key attributes of human sperm function: motility and acrosome reaction. In order to accelerate contraceptive development, we screened the comprehensive collection of 12,000 molecules that make up the ReFRAME repurposing library, comprising nearly all the small molecules that have been approved or have undergone clinical development, or have significant preclinical profiling. We identified several compounds that potently inhibit motility representing either novel drug candidates or routes to target identification. This platform will now allow for major drug discovery programmes that address the critical gap in the contraceptive portfolio as well as uncover novel human sperm biology.

Data availability

Full data is available. Large files have been deposited :https://datadryad.org/stash/share/06d75FZ6GiPmme3HnKnkyTFbgKJ2mV0UVRaN-gVKoVE.

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Franz S Gruber

    School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, Dundee, United Kingdom
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  2. Zoe C johnston

    Division of Systems Medicine, University of Dundee, Dundee, United Kingdom
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  3. Christopher LR Barratt

    Division of Systems Medicine, University of Dundee, Dundee, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    Christopher LR Barratt, Editor for RBMO, has received lecturing fees from Merck, Pharmasure and Ferring and was on the Scientific Advisory Panel for Ohana BioSciences.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-0062-9979
  4. Paul D Andrews

    School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, Dundee, United Kingdom
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-7699-5604


Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (OPP1160989)

  • Zoe C johnston

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (OPP1203050)

  • Franz S Gruber
  • Zoe C johnston
  • Christopher LR Barratt
  • Paul D Andrews

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication. The Funders did facilitate using the REFRAME library


Human subjects: Written consent was obtained from each donor in accordance with the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) Code of Practice (version 8) under local ethical approval (13/ES/0091) from the Tayside Committee of Medical Research Ethics B.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Polina V Lishko, University of California, Berkeley, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: September 9, 2019
  2. Accepted: January 19, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: January 28, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: February 27, 2020 (version 2)


© 2020, Gruber et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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