Researchers find gene that spurs development of the epididymis

oiling in the epididymis between days 15.5 and 17.5. (Mouse gestation is about 19 days.)

Before it is formed in the embryo, the epididymis is part of a structure called the Wolffian duct. When the male mouse embryo is about 13 days old, the Wolffian duct begins to grow and differentiate into the plumbing system connecting testes and vas deferens. This normally occurs in males shortly after testosterone levels begin their increase. But in the embryos Tomaszewski had found, the epididymis did not follow the standard path, even though testosterone production was normal.

From his earlier work, Yao knew that the gene for one component of a growth factor, inhibin beta A, is highly expressed in the part of the Wolffian duct that eventually becomes the epididymis. He also knew that expression of this gene increases in response to a rise in testosterone. Inhibin beta A forms part of a protein, activin, that spurs a cascade of activity in certain cells.

By staining the cells of the developing epididymis for inhibin beta A and for a marker of activin activation Yaos team was able to show that inhibin beta A was spurring activity in the cells that form the walls of epididymal tube.

Further study showed that a lack of inhibin beta A led to stasis in these cells. Without it, the cells divided too slowly to adequately lengthen the tube.

This research adds to the evidence that while testosterone is the master switch that triggers the development of male reproductive structures, it doesnt work alone, Yao said. Other studies had shown that testosterone works with other regionally specific factors to spur the development of structures such as the prostate gland or seminal vesicles. Inhibin beta A is the first such factor shown to contribute to epididymal coiling, he said.

The identification of inhibin beta A in the development of the epididymis is important for understanding the basic biology of male sexual development, Yao

Contact: Diana Yates
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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