Contractions of seminiferous tubules and epididymal duct walls promote spermiation and sperm transfer, and they are thought to be stimulated by the related peptides oxytocin and vasopressin. This study tested the hypothesis that if oxytocin and/or vasopressin play a physiological role in sperm shedding and transport, then local or circulating concentrations of these peptides would increase during puberty. Testes, epididymides, and trunk blood of sheep at stages during the first spermatogenic wave were collected, and radioimmunoassay measured significant increases in testicular and epididymal oxytocin during spermatogenesis. No changes were measured in circulating oxytocin or in local or circulating vasopressin. Localization and synthesis was investigated by immunohistochemistry and Western blot analysis employing antibodies recognizing epitopes of either oxytocin, oxytocin-associated neurophysin, vasopressin, or vasopressin-associated neurophysin. Marked expression of both oxytocin and its associated neurophysin in testicular Leydig and epididymal principal cells was seen, and weak neurophysin immunoreactivity was also identified in Sertoli cells. The intercellular distribution of oxytocin varied between regions of the epididymis, suggesting several roles for oxytocin. Vasopressin synthesis was not apparent in either tissue. These results confirm the presence and development of paracrine oxytocinergic systems in the ram testis and epididymis of ram during puberty while questioning the physiological importance of vasopressin.
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