The initial segment of the epididymis is vital for male fertility; therefore, it is important to understand the mechanisms that regulate this important region. Deprival of testicular luminal fluid factors/lumicrine factors from the epididymis results in a wave of apoptosis in the initial segment. In this study, a combination of protein array and microarray analyses was used to examine the early changes in downstream signal transduction pathways following loss of lumicrine factors. We discovered the following cascade of events leading to the loss of protection and eventual apoptosis: in the first 6 h after loss of lumicrine factors, down-regulation of the ERK pathway components was observed at the mRNA expression and protein activity levels. Microarray analysis revealed that mRNA levels of several key components of the ERK pathway, Dusp6, Dusp5, and Etv5, decreased sharply, while the analysis from the protein array revealed a decline in the activities of MAP2K1/2 and MAPK1. Immunostaining of phospho-MAPK3/1 indicated that down-regulation of the ERK pathway was specific to the epithelial cells of the initial segment. Subsequently, after 12 h of loss of lumicrine factors, levels of mRNA expression of STAT and NFKB pathway components increased, mRNA levels of several genes encoding cell cycle inhibitors increased, and levels of protein expression of several proapoptotic phosphatases increased. Finally, after 18 h of loss of protection from lumicrine factors, apoptosis was observed. In conclusion, testicular lumicrine factors protect the cells of the initial segment by activating the ERK pathway, repressing STAT and NFKB pathways, and thereby preventing apoptosis.
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Vol. 84 • No. 6