Activins, follistatin and immunoregulation in the epididymis

R. Wijayarathna, M.P. Hedger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The interface between the epididymis and the immune system is implicated in many male reproductive pathologies. The resident immune cell populations and immune-environment within the epididymis are significantly different from the testis, which is an immune-privileged site. Moreover, the immune cell subsets and immunological responses between different regions of the epididymis vary considerably. The cauda epididymis is more susceptible to autoimmune responses than the caput in rodent models of active immunization or suppressed immune tolerance, and in men with congenital or physical damage to the reproductive tract. Activins are members of the transforming growth factor-β family of cytokines that are crucial for testis and epididymal development; however, they also have complex immunoregulatory properties and may play an essential role in the regulation of immunity in the reproductive tract. Materials and methods: Our recent research and relevant publications by other researchers identified following a PubMed search are reviewed. Results: The caput epididymis displays elevated endogenous expression of activins A and B and the immunoregulatory gene, indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase, co-existing with an extensive population of intra-epithelial and interstitial macrophages and dendritic cells, which appear to be involved in regulating tolerance against sperm antigens. The caput is also relatively resistant to inflammatory damage caused by autoimmunity or bacterial infection, but the cauda, which exhibits low activin expression and high levels of the activin-binding protein, follistatin, is highly susceptible to inflammatory damage. Paradoxically, inflammation in the cauda induces increased activin production, and inhibition of activin activity reduces inflammatory responses. Studies using mouse models with altered levels of activins and follistatin indicate a relationship between the activins and genes involved in inflammation and immunoregulation. Conclusion: The existing data indicate that activins play a complex role in controlling inflammation and immunity in the epididymis and vas deferens.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 703-711
Number of pages9
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019

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