Characterization of a novel rat epididymal cell line to study epididymal function.

Research paper by Julie J Dufresne, Nancy N St-Pierre, Robert S RS Viger, Louis L Hermo, Daniel G DG Cyr

Indexed on: 16 Aug '05Published on: 16 Aug '05Published in: Endocrinology


The epididymis is an androgen-dependent organ that allows spermatozoa to become fully functional as they pass through this tissue. The specialized functions of the epididymis are mediated by interactions between epididymal epithelial cells and between epididymal cells and spermatozoa. Although the critical role of the epididymis in sperm maturation is well established, the mechanisms regulating cell-cell interactions remain poorly understood because of the lack of appropriate cell line models. We now report the characterization of a novel rat caput epididymal cell line (RCE) that was immortalized by transfecting primary cultures of rat epididymal cells with the simian virus 40 large T antigen. At the electron microscope level, the cell line was composed of epithelial principal cells with characteristics of in vivo cells; principal cells had well-developed Golgi apparatus, abundant endoplasmic reticulum cisternae, and few endosomes. RCE cells expressed the mRNAs coding for the androgen receptor, estrogen receptor alpha, and 4-ene-steroid-5-alpha-reductase types 1 and 2 as well as epididymal-specific markers Crisp-1 and epididymal retinoic acid binding protein. Epididymal retinoic acid binding protein expression was significantly induced with dihydrotestosterone, although this effect was not blocked by flutamide, suggesting that RCE cells are not androgen responsive. Neighboring cells formed tight and gap junctions characteristic of epididymal cells in vivo and expressed tight (occludin and claudin-1, -3, and -4) and gap junctional proteins (connexin-26, -30.3, -32, and -43). The RCE cell line displays many characteristics of epithelial principal cells, thus providing a model for studying epididymal cell functions.