Indexed on: 24 Dec '10Published on: 24 Dec '10Published in: Endocrinology
The epididymis plays an essential role in male fertility, and disruption of epididymal function can lead to obstructive azoospermia. Formation and function of the epididymis is androgen-dependent. The androgen receptor (AR) is expressed in both the stromal and epithelial compartments of the epididymis, and androgen action mediated via stromal cells is vital for its normal development and function. However the impact of epithelial specific AR-dependent signaling in the epididymis remains underexplored. To address this, we used conditional gene-targeting in mice to selectively ablate AR from the caput epididymal epithelium, and characterized the resulting phenotype at multiple postnatal ages. Caput epithelium androgen receptor knock-out mice have normal serum testosterone concentrations at day (d) 21 and d100, but do not develop an epididymal initial segment. The remaining caput epithelium displays a significant decrease in epithelial cell height from d11 and lumen diameter from d21 and disruption of the smooth muscle layer of the caput epididymis at d100. From d21, caput epithelium androgen receptor knock-out mice accumulate cell debris, proteinaceous material, and, at later ages, spermatozoa in their efferent ducts, which prevents normal passage of spermatozoa from the testis into the cauda epididymis resulting in infertility when tested at d100. This efferent duct obstruction leads to fluid back-pressure and disruption of the seminiferous epithelium of the adult testis. We conclude that epithelial AR signaling is essential for postnatal development and function of the epididymal epithelium and that disruption of this signaling can contribute to obstructive azoospermia.