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Petra Sipilä and Ida Björkgren

The epididymis is necessary for post-testicular sperm maturation. During their epididymal transit, spermatozoa gain ability for progressive movement and fertilization. The epididymis is composed of several segments that have distinct gene expression profiles that enable the establishment of the changing luminal environment required for sperm maturation. The epididymal gene expression is regulated by endocrine, lumicrine, and paracrine factors in a segment-specific manner. Thus, in addition to its importance for male fertility, the epididymis is a valuable model tissue for studying the regulation of gene expression. This review concentrates on recent advances in understanding the androgen, small RNA, and epigenetically mediated regulation of segment-specific gene expression in the epididymis.

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Ida Björkgren and Petra Sipilä

The epididymis is necessary for post-testicular sperm maturation as it provides the milieu required for spermatozoa to gain the ability for progressive movement and fertilization. In the epididymis the sperm protein, lipid and small RNA content are heavily modified due to interaction with luminal proteins secreted by the epididymal epithelium and extracellular vesicles, epididymosomes. This review focuses on epididymal proteins demonstrated to have an effect on sperm functions, such as motility, capacitation, acrosome reaction, sperm-zona pellucida binding and sperm-egg binding, as well as on embryonic development.

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Heikki T Turunen, Petra Sipilä, Leena Strauss, Ida Björkgren, Ilpo Huhtaniemi and Matti Poutanen

Bmyc is a member of the Myc family of transcriptional regulators in the mouse and the rat. It is predominantly expressed in hormonally controlled tissues, with highest level of expression in the epididymis. The BMYC protein has been shown to function as a transcription factor in vitro and to inhibit MYC. To study the significance of BMYC in vivo, a Bmyc knockout (KO) mouse model was generated by homologous recombination. The KO mice were viable and fertile and did not display gross morphological or histological changes compared to the WT mice. However, the testes and the epididymides of the KO mice were smaller than those of the WT mice. Correspondingly, a tendency for a lower sperm concentration in the cauda epididymides of the KO mice was detected. The testosterone produced/testis was significantly reduced, and accordingly, the LH levels were increased in the KO mice. Also, the expression levels of Myc and several of its target genes were elevated in the testes of prepubertal KO mice, whereas no differences in gene expression levels were detected in adult mice. Associated with the increased Myc expression, more apoptotic spermatogenic cells were detected in the seminiferous tubules of the KO mice. In conclusion, our data suggest that Bmyc is a regulator of Myc in vivo and that overexpression of Myc in the developing testis leads to increased apoptosis of spermatogenic cells.