The luminal environment along the epididymal duct is important for spermatozoal maturation. This environment is unique and created by the blood-epididymal barrier, which is formed by tight and adhering junctions. For the human epididymis, little information exists on the proteins that comprise these junctions. Our objectives were to assess the gene expression profiles in the different segments of the human epididymis and to identify the proteins that make up the blood-epididymal barrier. Using microarrays, we identified 2980 genes that were differentially expressed by at least 2-fold between the various segments. Of the many genes involved in diverse functions, were those that encoded adhesion proteins (cadherins and catenins) and tight junctional proteins (claudins [CLDN] and others). PCR analyses confirmed the microarray data. Immunolocalization of CLDNs 1, 3, 4, 8, and 10 revealed that the localization of CLDNs differed along the epididymis. In all three segments, CLDNs 1, 3, and 4 were localized to tight junctions, along the lateral margins of adjacent principal cells, and at the interface between basal and principal cells. CLDN8 was localized to tight junctions in all three segments, in addition to being localized in the caput along the lateral margins of principal cells, and in the corpus, at the interface between principal and basal cells. CLDN10, tight junction protein 1, and occludin were localized exclusively to tight junctions in all three epididymal segments. These data indicate that the epididymis displays a complex pattern of gene expression, which includes genes that are implicated in the formation of the blood-epididymal barrier, which suggests complex regulation of this barrier.
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Vol. 76 • No. 6