Reviews of Reproduction
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Reviews of Reproduction (2000) 5 84-92
© 2000 Society for Reproduction and Fertility
DOI: 10.1530/ror.0.0050084
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Oestrogen in fluid transport in efferent ducts of the male reproductive tract

RA Hess

This review focuses on the importance of oestrogen and oestrogen receptors in the male reproductive system, with a special interest in the newly discovered role of oestrogen in the regulation of fluid reabsorption in the efferent ductules of the testis. Early work on oestrogen synthesis indicated that Leydig and Sertoli cells were the only important cells in the production of this steroid in the adult testis. However, more recent work has shown that germ cells and spermatozoa also contain aromatase and produce oestrogen. The observation that germ cells synthesize oestrogen contributed to a new hypothesis that oestrogen in the lumen of the male reproductive tract targets the epithelial lining of efferent ductules and the epididymis. The location of nuclear oestrogen receptors in the male reproductive tract has also been investigated and it has been found that oestrogen receptor alpha is more abundant in the efferent ductules of the testis than in any other tissue of the male or female. In all species examined to date, oestrogen receptor alpha has been found to be abundant in the efferent ductules. The structure and function of the efferent ductules are taken into account as these tubules are responsible for the reabsorption of almost 90% of the luminal rete testis fluid. Thus, it was logical to hypothesize that oestrogen receptors play a role in the regulation of fluid reabsorption in efferent ductules. The oestrogen receptor alpha knockout mouse was used to help define this role of the receptor in males. In this animal model, the efferent ductules are altered markedly from a reabsorptive epithelium to a squamous epithelium devoid of lysosomes and endocytotic organelles. Although the separate roles for oestrogens and androgens in the regulation of fluid reabsorption are controversial and remain to be resolved, it is now established that loss of oestrogen receptor function in males interferes with the resorptive function of efferent ductules, a function that is essential for fertility. Future studies will focus on the biochemical and physiological mechanisms involved in the regulation of water and ion movement by oestrogen in the male reproductive tract.
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