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Dieter Müller, Amal K Mukhopadhyay, Michail S Davidoff and Ralf Middendorff

Aging of the male reproductive system leads to changes in endocrine signaling and is frequently associated with the emergence of prostate hyperplasia and bladder dysfunctions. Recent reports highlight prostate and bladder as promising targets for therapeutic interventions with inhibitors of the cyclic GMP (cGMP)-degrading phosphodiesterase 5 (PDE5). However, the cGMP signaling system in these organs is as yet poorly characterized, and the possibility of age-related alterations has not been addressed. This study investigates key proteins of cGMP pathways in bladder, prostate, and epididymis of young (3 months) and old (23–24 months) Wistar rats. Local differences in the abundance of PDE5, soluble guanylyl cyclase (sGC) and particulate guanylyl cyclases (GC-A, GC-B), endothelial nitric oxide synthase, and cGMP-dependent protein kinase I (PRKG1 (cGKI)) revealed pronounced tissue-specific peculiarities. Although cGMP-generating enzymes were not affected by age in all organs, we recognized age-related decreases of PDE5 expression in bladder and a selective diminishment of membrane-associated PRKG1 in epididymis. In disagreement with published data, all cGMP pathway proteins including PDE5 are poorly expressed in prostate. However, prostatic PRKG1 expression increases with aging. Androgen withdrawal during temporary Leydig cell elimination induced a massive (>12-fold) upregulation of PRKG1 in prostate but not in other (penis and epididymis) androgen-dependent organs. These findings identify PRKG1 as a key androgen-sensitive signaling protein in prostate of possible importance for growth regulation. The elucidated effects may have significance for age-associated pathologies in the male lower-urinary tract.

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Steffi Werler, Hannah Demond, Oliver S Damm, Jens Ehmcke, Ralf Middendorff, Jörg Gromoll and Joachim Wistuba

Klinefelter's syndrome is a male sex-chromosomal disorder (47,XXY), causing hypogonadism, cognitive and metabolic deficits. The majority of patients are infertile due to complete germ cell loss after puberty. As the depletion occurs during development, the possibilities to study the underlying causes in humans are limited. In this study, we used the 41,XXY* mouse model to characterise the germ line postnatally. We examined marker expression of testicular cells focusing on the spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs) and found that the number of germ cells was approximately reduced fivefold at day 1pp in the 41,XXY* mice, indicating the loss to start prenatally. Concurrently, immunohistochemical SSC markers LIN28A and PGP9.5 also showed decreased expression on day 1pp in the 41,XXY* mice (48.5 and 38.9% of all germ cells were positive), which dropped to 7.8 and 7.3% on 3dpp, and were no longer detectable on days 5 and 10pp respectively. The differences in PCNA-positive proliferating cells in XY* and XXY* mice dramatically increased towards day 10pp. The mRNA expression of the germ cell markers Lin28a (Lin28), Pou5f1 (Oct4), Utf1, Ddx4 (Vasa), Dazl, and Fapb1 (Sycp3) was reduced and the Lin28a regulating miRNAs were deregulated in the 41,XXY* mice. We suggest a model for the course of germ cell loss starting during the intrauterine period. Neonatally, SSC marker expression by the already lowered number of spermatogonia is reduced and continues fading during the first postnatal week, indicating the surviving cells of the SSC population to be disturbed in their stem cell characteristics. Subsequently, the entire germ line is then generally lost when entering meiosis.

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Marco Mewe, Iris Wulfsen, Ralf Middendorff and Christiane K Bauer

Passage of spermatozoa through the epididymis and emission of sperm during ejaculation are based on spontaneous and induced contractions of epididymal peritubular muscle layers. This study deals with the ejaculation-relevant factors noradrenaline (NA) and oxytocin (OT) and their contractile effects in the course of the bovine epididymal duct. Muscle tension recording revealed excitatory effects of NA in all duct regions. A peculiarity was found in a duct section between the mid-cauda and ductus deferens, where the responsiveness to NA was particularly faint in comparison with the adjacent regions. NA-induced contraction was primarily mediated by postjunctional α2-adrenoceptors (ADRA) in the caput and corpus regions, and by α1-ADRA in the cauda region. Contrary to NA, OT exerted regionally varying effects. The peptide induced contraction in intact and epithelium-denuded caput as well as in epithelium-denuded corpus segments but had a relaxant net effect in intact corpus and proximal cauda segments. Within the mid-cauda, OT evoked strong contraction, which progressively decreased distally. Receptor specificity of the epididymal OT effects was verified using the selective OT receptor (OTR) agonist [Thr4,Gly7]OT and vasopressin. OTR immunoreactivity was detected in the epididymal peritubular muscle wall and epithelial principal cells. RT-PCR analysis confirmed the presence of OTR in all duct regions. In summary, different contractile responses to OT and NA occur in the course of the epididymal duct, possibly preventing excessive sperm transport through the corpus and serving orthograde emission of sperm during ejaculation.

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Daniela Weiser, Andrea Mietens, Beatrix Stadler, Davor Ježek, Gerhard Schuler and Ralf Middendorff

Contractions of the adult epididymal duct are well known in the context of sperm transport. Some reports also describe contractions of the epididymal duct during development, but data about their character, regulation and function are sparse. In the foetal human epididymis we found luminal cells and could identify them as exfoliated epithelial cells originating from the epididymis and not from testis by using antibodies against neutral endopeptidase as an epithelial epididymal duct marker. Exfoliated cells were also found in the epididymal duct after birth. Time-lapse imaging revealed directional transport of luminal cells in the neonatal rat epididymis interrupted by pendular movement. Spontaneous contractions were discovered in the neonatal epididymis and an association between these contractions and the transport of the luminal cells could be observed. Both, transport and spontaneous contractions, were affected significantly by substances known to contract (noradrenaline) or relax (the phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitor sildenafil) smooth muscle cells. Immunohistochemistry showed staining for the proliferation marker proliferating-cell-nuclear-antigen (PCNA) in cells of the ductal lumen of the neonatal rat epididymis indicating the extrusion of cells also during proliferation. Our data showed spontaneous contractions of the immature epididymal duct associated with the transport of exfoliated luminal cells before the first occurrence of sperm cells. Results suggest an important role including both (i) a mechanical place holder function of exfoliated luminal cells (ii) together with a novel idea of organized waste disposal of these cells during development.

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Rukmali Wijayarathna, David M de Kretser, Rajini Sreenivasan, Helen Ludlow, Ralf Middendorff, Andreas Meinhardt, Kate L Loveland and Mark P Hedger

Activin A regulates testicular and epididymal development, but the role of activin B in the epididymis and vas deferens is unknown. Mouse models with reduced activin A (Inhba +/− and Inhba BK/+), or its complete absence (Inhba BK/BK), were investigated to identify specific roles of activins in the male reproductive tract. In 8-week-old Inhba +/− mice, serum activin A decreased by 70%, with a 50% reduction of gene expression and protein in the testis, epididymis and vas deferens. Activin B and the activin-binding protein, follistatin, were similar to wild-type. Testis weights were slightly reduced in Inhba +/− mice, but the epididymis and vas deferens were normal, while the mice were fertile. Activin A was decreased by 70% in the serum, testis, epididymis and vas deferens of Inhba BK/+ mice and was undetectable in Inhba BK/BK mice, but activin B and follistatin levels were similar to wild-type. In 6-week-old Inhba BK/BK mice, testis weights were 60% lower and epididymal weights were 50% lower than in either Inhba BK/+ or wild-type mice. The cauda epididymal epithelium showed infoldings and less intra-luminal sperm, similar to 3.5-week-old wild-type mice, but at 8 weeks, no structural differences in the testis or epididymis were noted between Inhba BK/BK and wild-type mice. Thus, Inhbb can compensate for Inhba in regulating epididymal morphology, although testis and epididymal maturation is delayed in mice lacking Inhba. Crucially, reduction or absence of activin A, at least in the presence of normal activin B levels, does not lead to major defects in the adult epididymis or vas deferens.