During the epididymal transit, mammalian spermatozoa acquire new surface proteins necessary for male gamete function. We have previously shown that membranous vesicles, called epididymosomes, interact with spermatozoa allowing the transfer of some proteins to sperm surface within the epididymal lumen. The protein composition of those vesicles has been investigated to document the mechanisms of protein transfer from epididymosomes to spermatozoa. Electrophoretic analysis revealed that protein composition is different from the epididymal soluble compartment as well as from similar vesicles present in the semen. Protein association with epididymosome is very strong as revealed by resistance to extraction with detergent. Matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization time-of-flight as well as immunodetection techniques have been used to identify some proteins associated to epididymosomes and spermatozoa. An aldose reductase known for its 20α-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase activity and the cytokine (macrophage migration inhibitory factor) have been identified. These two proteins have been immunolocalized in principal cells of the epididymal epithelium, a more intense signal being detected in the distal epididymal segment as well as in the vas deferens. Database search revealed that these two proteins are characterized by the lack of a signal peptide. These results are discussed with regard to a possible apocrine mode of secretion of these proteins acquired by spermatozoa during the epididymal transit.
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