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Biol Reprod. 2011 Feb;84(2):207-17. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod.110.087353. Epub 2010 Oct 6.

Estrogen, efferent ductules, and the epididymis.

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  • 1Department of Comparative Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois 61802, USA.


Estrogen's presence in the male reproductive system has been known for over 60 years, but its potential function in the epididymis remains an important area of investigation. Estrogen is synthesized by germ cells, producing a relatively high concentration in rete testis fluid. There are two estrogen receptors (ESR), the presence of which in the head of the epididymis is well documented and consistent between species; however, in other regions of the epididymis, their expression appears to be isotype, species, and cell specific. ESR1 is expressed constitutively in the epididymis; however, its presence is downregulated by high doses of estrogen, making the design of experiments complicated, as the phenotype of the Cyp19a1(-/-) mouse does not resemble that of the Esr1(-/-) mouse. Ligand-independent and DNA-binding Esr1 mutant models further demonstrate the complexity and importance of both signaling pathways in maintenance of efferent ductules and epididymis. Data now reveal the presence of not only classical nuclear receptors, but also cytoplasmic ESR and rapid responding membrane receptors; however, their importance in the epididymis remains undetermined. ESR1 regulates ion transport and water reabsorption in the efferent ducts and epididymis, and its regulation of other associated genes is continually being uncovered. In the male, some genes, such as Aqp9 and Slc9a3, contain both androgen and estrogen response elements and are dually regulated by these hormones. While estrogen pathways are a necessity for fertility in the male, future studies are needed to understand the interplay between androgens and estrogens in epididymal tissues, particularly in cell types that contain both receptors and their cofactors.

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