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Volume 9, Issue 4 (July 2007) 9, 483–491; 10.1111/j.1745-7262.2007.00281.x

Epididymosomes are involved in the acquisition of new sperm proteins during epididymal transit

Robert Sullivan, Gilles Frenette and Julie Girouard

Centre de Recherche en Biologie de la Reproduction and Département d'Obstétrique-Gynécologie, Faculté de Médecine, Université Laval, Quebec G1V 4G2, Canada

Correspondence: Dr Robert Sullivan, Unité dOntogénie-Reproduction, Centre de Recherche, Centre Hospitalier de lUniversité Laval, 2705 Boulevard. Laurier, Ste-Foy, Quebec G1V 4G2, Canada. Fax: +1-418-654-2765. E-mail: robert.sullivan@crchul.ulaval.ca


During epididymal transit, spermatozoa acquire new proteins. Some of these newly acquired proteins behave as integral membrane proteins, including glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI)-anchored proteins. This suggests that the secreted epididymal proteins are transferred to spermatozoa by an unusual mechanism. Within the epididymal lumen, spermatozoa interact with small membranous vesicles named epididymosomes. Many proteins are associated with epididymosomes and the protein composition of these vesicles varies along the excurrent duct and differs from soluble intraluminal proteins. Some epididymosome-associated proteins have been identified and their functions in sperm maturation hypothesized. These include P25b, a zona pellucida binding protein, macrophage migration inhibitory factor, enzymes of the polyol pathway, HE5/CD52, type 5 glutathione peroxidase, and SPAM1 or PH-20. The electrophoretic patterns of proteins associated to epididymosomes are complex and some of these proteins are transferred to defined surface domains of epididymal spermatozoa. Epididymosomes collected from different epididymal segments interact differently with spermatozoa. This protein transfer from epididymosomes to spermatozoa is time-dependent, temperature-dependent and pH-dependent, and is more efficient in the presence of zinc. Some proteins are segregated to lipid raft domains of epididymosomes and are selectively transferred to raft domains of the sperm plasma membrane. Some evidence is presented showing that epididymosomes are secreted in an apocrine manner by the epididymal epithelial cells. In conclusion, epididymosomes are small membranous vesicles secreted in an apocrine manner in the intraluminal compartment of the epididymis and play a major role in the acquisition of new proteins by the maturing spermatozoa.

Keywords: apocrine secretion, epididymis, epididymosomes, spermatozoa, sperm maturation

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