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Endocrinology. 2005 Aug;146(8):3506-17. Epub 2005 Apr 28.

Oxytocin mediates the estrogen-dependent contractile activity of endothelin-1 in human and rabbit epididymis.

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Interdepartmental Laboratory of Functional and Cellular Pharmacology of Reproduction, University of Florence, 50139 Florence, Italy.


Epididymis is a sex steroid (androgen + estrogen)-sensitive duct provided with spontaneous motility, allowing sperm transport. We previously reported that the oxytocin (OT) receptor (OTR) mediates an estrogen-dependent increase in epididymal contractility. Because endothelin (ET)-1 also regulates epididymal motility, we tested its sex steroid dependence in a rabbit model. We demonstrated that estrogens up-regulate responsiveness to ET-1, which is reduced by blocking aromatase activity (letrozole, 2.5 mg/kg) or by triptorelin (2.9 mg/kg)-induced hypogonadism, whereas it is fully restored by estradiol valerate (3.3 mg/kg weekly) but not by testosterone enanthate (30 mg/kg weekly). However, changing sex steroid milieu did not affect either ET-1, its receptor gene, or protein expression. Two structurally distinct OTR-antagonists [(d(CH2)5(1), Tyr(Me)(2), Orn(8))-OT and atosiban] almost completely abolished ET-1 contractility, without competing for [125I]ET-1 binding, suggesting that OT/OTR partially mediates ET-1 action. Immunohistochemical studies in human and rabbit epididymis demonstrated that both OT and its synthesis-associated protein, neurophysin I, are expressed in the epithelial cells facing the muscular layer, suggesting local OT production. Quantitative RT-PCR demonstrated a high abundance of OT transcripts in human epididymis. OT transcript was also originally detected and partially sequenced in rabbit epididymis. To verify whether ET-1 regulates OT release, we used rabbit epididymal epithelial cell cultures. These cells expressed a high density of [125I]ET-1 binding sites and responded to ET-1 with a dose-dependent OT release. Hence, we propose that an ET-1-induced OT/OTR system activation underlies the estrogen-dependent hyperresponsiveness to ET-1. These local sources might promote the spontaneous motility necessary for sperm transport.

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