Activin A is an important regulator of testicular and epididymal development and function, as well as inflammation and immunity. In the adult murine reproductive tract, activin A mRNA (Inhba) expression levels are highest in the caput epididymis and decrease progressively towards the distal vas deferens. The activin-binding protein, follistatin (FST), shows the opposite expression pattern, with exceptionally high levels of the Fst288 mRNA variant in the vas deferens. This unique pattern of expression suggests that activin A and follistatin, in particular FST288, play region-specific roles in regulating the epididymis and vas deferens. The cellular distribution of activin and follistatin and structural organization of the male reproductive tract was examined in wild-type and transgenic (TghFST315) mice lacking FST288. Compared to wild-type littermates, TghFST315 mice showed a 50% reduction in serum follistatin and a significant elevation of both activin A and B. Testicular, epididymal and seminal vesicle weights were reduced, but intra-testicular testosterone was normal. A decrease in the epididymal duct diameter in the corpus and thickening of the peritubular smooth muscle in the cauda, together with increased coiling of the proximal vas deferens, were observed in TghFST315 mice. No immune cell infiltrates were detected. Immunohistochemistry indicated that epithelial cells are the main source of activins and follistatin in the epididymis and vas deferens. Activin A, but not activin B, was also localized to sperm heads in the lumen of the epididymis and vas deferens. Expression of Inhba and another immunoregulatory gene, indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase (Ido-1), was increased approximately twofold in the TghFST315 caput epididymis, but several other genes associated with immunoregulation, inflammation or fibrosis were unaffected. Our novel data indicate that disruption of follistatin expression has significant effects on the testis and epididymis, and suggest an association between activin A and indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase in the caput epididymis, with implications for the epididymal immunoenvironment.
- Gene expression
- Vas deferens