Maturation of spermatozoa, including the acquisition of motility and the ability to undergo capacitation, occurs during transit through the dynamic environment of the epididymis. The microenvironments created along the length of the epididymal tubule are essential to the molecular modifications of spermatozoa that result in fertile gametes. The secretory and resorptive processes of the epithelial cells that line this tubule generate these microenvironments. In the current study, 10 morphologically distinct segments of the mouse epididymis were identified by microdissection. We hypothesized that the changing environments of the epididymal lumen are established by differential gene expression among these segments. RNA isolated from each of the 10 segments was analyzed by microarray analysis. More than 17 000 genes are expressed in the mouse epididymis, compared with about 12 000 genes identified from whole epididymal samples. Screening a panel of normal mouse tissues identified both epididymal-selective and epididymal-specific transcripts. In addition, this study identified 2168 genes that are up-regulated or down-regulated by greater than 4-fold between at least two different segments. The expression patterns of these genes identify distinct patterns of segmental regulation. Using principal component analysis, we determined that the 10 segments form 6 different transcriptional units. These analyses elucidate the changes in gene expression along the length of the epididymis for 17 000 expressed transcripts and provide a powerful resource for the research community in future studies of the biological factors that mediate epididymal sperm maturation.
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