Defensins are antimicrobial peptides that play a major role in innate immunity. Using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction, immunochemistry, or both, we performed a search of all presently known defensins in rat testis, epididymis, and isolated testicular cells; in mouse testis and epididymis; and in human testis and ejaculates. In the rat, all α- and β-defensins except RNP-4 were expressed within the testis, whereas α-defensins RNP1–2, RNP-4, and β-defensins RBD-1 and RBD-2 were present within the epididymis. In the mouse, the cryptdin transcripts CRS1C, mBD-1, and mBD-2 were detected in the testis and epididymis, whereas mBD-3 and mBD-4 were expressed only in the epididymis, and CRS4C was absent in both organs. In the human testis, transcripts for four known defensins were expressed with the consistent exception of HBD-2 and HBD-3. In rat interstitial tissue, resident macrophages expressed most of the defensins studied, whereas Leydig cells produced only RBD-2. In contrast, all studied defensins except RNP-4 were present in the seminiferous tubules. Within these tubules, peritubular and Sertoli cells expressed most of the studied α- and β-defensins, whereas spermatogonia displayed only α-defensins, but at relatively high levels. Meiotic pachytene spermatocytes expressed only β-defensins, whereas postmeiotic spermatids and their cytoplasmic lobes displayed both types. In humans, the HBD-1 peptide was expressed mainly in the germ line from pachytene spermatocytes to late spermatids. The peptide was also present in ejaculated spermatozoa and seminal plasma, where multiple soluble forms were present. Finally, high salt concentration or dithiothreitol-sensitive cationic extracts from human seminal plasma were indeed found to display antimicrobial activity. We conclude that the male reproductive tract produces defensins that most probably assume an important, innate organ defense system against pathogens.
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