Indexed on: 26 Jun '07Published on: 26 Jun '07Published in: Asian Journal of Andrology
Although spermatozoa are formed during spermatogenesis in the testis, testicular spermatozoa are immature and cannot swim or fertilize. These critical spermatozoal functions are acquired in the epididymis where a specific luminal environment is created by the blood-epididymal barrier; proteins secreted by epididymal principal cells bind to maturing spermatozoa and regulate the maturational process of the spermatozoa. In the epididymis, epithelial cell-cell interactions are mediated by adhering junctions, necessary for cell adhesion, and by tight junctions, which form the blood-epididymal barrier. The regulation of these cellular junctions is thought to represent a key determinant in the process of sperm maturation within the epididymis. Tight junctions between adjacent principal cells permit the formation of a specific microenvironment in the lumen of the epididymis that is essential for sperm maturation. Although we have made significant progress in understanding epididymal function and the blood-epididymal barrier, using animal models, there is limited information on the human epididymis. If we are to understand the normal and pathological conditions attributable to human epididymal function, we must clearly establish the physiological, cellular and molecular regulation of the human epididymis, develop tools to characterize these functions and develop clinical strategies that will use epididymal functions to improve treatment of infertility.