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Volume 17, Issue 5 (September 2015) 17, 726–729; 10.4103/1008-682X.155255

Epididymosomes: a heterogeneous population of microvesicles with multiple functions in sperm maturation and storage

Robert Sullivan

Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproduction, Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval and Reproduction, Mother and Youth Health Division, Research Center CHU de Québec, Québec, G1V 4G2, Canada

Correspondence: Prof. R Sullivan (robert.sullivan@




Extracellular microvesicles present in the epididymal fluid have been named epididymosomes. Many epididymosome-associated proteins are transferred to spermatozoa during their maturation in the excurrent duct. Epididymosomes are heterogeneous, with their size varying between 50 and 250 nm. Two distinct population of epididymosomes characterized by different protein compositions and diameters have been isolated from the bovine epididymal fluid using different centrifugation protocols. One subpopulation of epididymosomes was characterized by CD9 and other tetraspanin partners. Transfer of proteins from these epididymosomes to maturing spermatozoa in co-incubation experiments was inhibited by antibodies against tetraspanin proteins. This suggests that this subpopulation of epididymosomes is involved in the acquisition of proteins involved in maturation by spermatozoa in the epididymis. The other population of epididymosomes was characterized by ELSPBP1 (epididymal sperm binding protein 1), known for its affinity for the phospholipid choline group. Flow cytometric analyses showed that ELSPBP1-positive epididymosomes only interacted with dying or dead epididymal spermatozoa in a Zn 2 + -dependent manner. BLVRA (biliverdin reductase) was identified as a partner of ELSPBP1. This enzyme reduces biliverdin to bilirubin: two molecules with powerful anti-oxidant properties. We hypothesize that BLVRA is involved in an ROS-scavenging mechanism protecting live epididymal spermatozoa against detrimental molecules (ROS) released by dying cells. Therefore, it appears that there are at least two epididymosome population with distinct functions: targeting specific proteins to transiting spermatozoa by tetraspanin-mediated membrane fusion, and protection of epididymal spermatozoa against ROS released from dying cells. Further work is needed to understand functions of epididymosomes in epididymal physiology and sperm maturation and storage.

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Asian Journal of Andrology CN 31-1795/R ISSN 1008-682X  Copyright © 2023  Shanghai Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Sciences.  All rights reserved.