The initial segment (IS) in rodents is functionally and structurally distinct from other epididymal segments and plays an important role in sperm maturation. The MAPK/ERK1/2 pathway is maintained active in the IS by testicular luminal factors and plays crucial roles in the maintenance and differentiation of the IS epithelium. Tight junctions (TJs) are constituents of the blood-epididymis barrier, which mediates the paracellular transport of ions, solutes, and water and controls epithelial cell differentiation, thereby contributing to the establishment of a unique luminal environment. We examine here the role of the MAPK/ERK1/2 pathway in the regulation of TJ proteins in the IS. Inhibition of mitogen activated protein kinase kinase (MAPKK or MEK1/2) with PD325901, followed by reduction of ERK1/2 phosphorylation (pERK), decreased zonula occludens (ZO)-2 expression and increased ZO-3 expression in TJs but had no effect on ZO-1 expression. In control mice, in addition to being located in TJs, claudin (Cldn)-1, Cldn-3, and Cldn-4 were detected in the basolateral membrane of epithelial cells, with enriched expression of Cldn-1 and Cldn-4 in basal cells. PD325901 reduced the expression of Cldn-1 and Cldn-4 at all locations without affecting Cldn-3. Occludin was undetectable in the IS of control mice, but PD325901 triggered its expression in TJs. No effect was observed for any of the proteins examined in the other epididymal regions. Our results indicate the participation of the MAPK/ERK1/2 pathway in the regulation of cell-cell events that control the formation and maintenance of the blood-epididymis barrier.
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Vol. 94 • No. 1