Indexed on: 10 May '12Published on: 10 May '12Published in: PloS one
Amyloids are aggregated proteins characterized by a specific cross-β-sheet structure and are typically associated with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's disease. Recently, however, several nonpathological amyloids have been found in intracellular organelles of normal mammalian tissues suggesting that amyloid may also carry out biological functions. We previously have shown that the epididymal cystatin CRES (cystatin-related epididymal spermatogenic), cst8, a reproductive-specific member of the cystatin superfamily of cysteine protease inhibitors, forms amyloid in vitro suggesting that CRES amyloid may also form in vivo within the epididymal lumen. Here we show that amyloid structures containing CRES are a component of the normal mouse epididymal lumen without any apparent cytotoxic effects on spermatozoa and that these structures change along the length of the tubule. These studies suggest the presence of a functional amyloid structure that may carry out roles in sperm maturation or maintenance of the luminal milieu and which itself may undergo maturational changes along the epididymis. In contrast to previous examples of functional amyloid which were intracellular, our studies now show that nonpathological/functional amyloid can also be extracellular. The presence of an extracellular and nonpathological amyloid in the epididymis suggests that similar amyloid structures may be present in other organ systems and may carry out distinctive tissue-specific functions.