The family of type 2 cystatin proteins is a class of cysteine proteinase inhibitors that function as potent inhibitors of papain-like cysteine proteinases. Recent studies have suggested that cystatins in the male reproductive tract subgroup may perform functions distinct from those of typical cystatins. The objective of the present study was to identify and characterize the expression of new gene members of the cystatin family 2 in mouse male reproductive tissues. Two new members of cystatin family 2, named mouse Cystatin E1 and mouse Cystatin E2 (mCST E1 and mCST E2, respectively), were identified in mice by searching the National Center for Biotechnology Information database for proteins containing homology to known type 2 cystatins. Human CST E1 has recently been reported independently under the name CST 11. The deduced amino acid sequences of these genes have significant homology with the family 2 cystatins, including four conserved cysteine residues at the C-terminus. Similar to other male reproductive subgroup cystatins, the inhibitory motifs are not well conserved in these genes. Northern blot analyses showed that both genes were highly expressed only in the epididymis. In situ hybridization demonstrated that both genes were restricted in their expression to the epithelial cells of the caput and that the highest expression was localized to the initial segment of caput epididymis. Northern blot analyses and in situ hybridization showed that both mCST E1 and E2 mRNA decreased after castration, and treatment with testosterone propionate (T) did not maintain expression of these genes. In fact, T treatment further repressed the expression of these genes in the epididymis following castration. Efferent ductule ligation resulted in a dramatic decrease of epididymal expression of mCST E1 and E2. The expression of mCST E1 mRNA was up-regulated by 17β-estradiol (E) administration for 7 days postcastration, whereas no recovery of mCST E1 mRNA level was detected after 14 days of E treatment. Combined E and T (E T) treatment for 1 and 2 wk reduced the mCST E1 transcripts. The expression of mCST E2 mRNA was maintained by E administration for both 7 and 14 days after castration, whereas treatment of both T and E repressed the expression of mCST E2. Although both mCST E1 and E2 share significant homology with family 2 cystatins, including similar distribution in tissues and localization in epididymis, these genes may have different functions, because their regulation involves different hormones and, probably, other testicular factors.
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