Eppin (SPINLW1; serine peptidase inhibitor-like with Kunitz and WAP domains 1 (eppin); epididymal protease inhibitor) coats the surface of human ejaculate spermatozoa and originates from Sertoli and epididymal epithelial cells. In this study, we have isolated native eppin from ejaculate supernatants (seminal plasma) and washed ejaculate spermatozoa using column chromatography and two-dimensional SDS-PAGE, and identified by mass spectrometry and Western blots an eppin protein complex (EPC) containing lactotransferrin (LTF; also known as lactoferrin), clusterin (CLU), and semenogelin (SEMG1). To confirm the association of eppin with LTF, CLU, and SEMG1, antibodies to CLU and LTF were used to immunoprecipitate CLU and LTF from human sperm lysates. In both cases identical results were obtained, namely, the immunoprecipitate of the EPC. Additionally, we localized eppin, LTF, and CLU in human Sertoli cells and on human testicular and ejaculate spermatozoa, implying that the EPC is present on spermatozoa from the time they leave the seminiferous tubule. On ejaculate spermatozoa eppin, LTF, and CLU colocalize on the tail. The identification of the EPC components suggests that LTF, CLU, and/or eppin receptors may function as sperm plasma membrane receptors for the EPC, implicating the complex as a central player in a network of protein-protein interactions on the human sperm surface. The EPC may provide a surface network with microbicidal properties that protects spermatozoa as well as regulates the sperm's transition to a motile, capacitated sperm.
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Vol. 77 • No. 3