The functional maturation of mammalian spermatozoa is accomplished as the cells descend through the highly specialized microenvironment of the epididymis. This dynamic environment is, in turn, created by the combined secretory and absorptive activity of the surrounding epithelium and displays an extraordinary level of regionalization. Although the regulatory network responsible for spatial coordination of epididymal function remains unclear, recent evidence has highlighted a novel role for the RNA interference pathway. Indeed, as noncanonical regulators of gene expression, small noncoding RNAs have emerged as key elements of the circuitry involved in regulating epididymal function and hence sperm maturation. Herein we have employed next generation sequencing technology to profile the genome-wide miRNA signatures of mouse epididymal cells and characterize segmental patterns of expression. An impressive profile of some 370 miRNAs were detected in the mouse epididymis, with a subset of these specifically identified within the epithelial cells that line the tubule (218). A majority of the latter miRNAs (75%) were detected at equivalent levels along the entire length of the mouse epididymis. We did however identify a small cohort of miRNAs that displayed highly regionalized patterns of expression, including miR-204-5p and miR-196b-5p, which were down- and up-regulated by approximately 39- and 45-fold between the caput/caudal regions, respectively. In addition we identified 79 miRNAs (representing ∼ 21% of all miRNAs) as displaying conserved expression within all regions of the mouse, rat and human epididymal tissue. These included 8/14 members of let-7 family of miRNAs that have been widely implicated in the control of androgen signaling and the repression of cell proliferation and oncogenic pathways. Overall these data provide novel insights into the sophistication of the miRNA network that regulates the function of the male reproductive tract.
- mouse epididymis