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Sécrétions apocrines et glandes annexes

Apocrine secretion in accessory sex glands


Le spermatozoïde quittant le testicule est incapable d’activité transcriptionnelle ou traductionnelle. Malgré cela, la composition en macromolécules de la surface du spermatozoïde subit des modifications majeures au cours de son passage dans le tractus reproducteur mâle. Ceci s’explique par l’interaction entre les sécrétions des différentes glandes du tractus reproducteur mâle et le spermatozoïde. Le mécanisme d’ancrage à la surface du spermatozoïde de certaines protéines nouvellement acquises, particulièrement l’ancrage glycosylphosphatidyl inositol, suggère un mode de sécrétion apocrine le long du tractus reproducteur mâle. Ce type de sécrétion a été démontré au niveau de la prostate, du canal déférent et de l’épididyme.

Notre laboratoire s’est penché sur ce phénomène particulièrement au niveau épididymaire. Nous avons montré que l’épithélium épididymaire sécrète par voie apocrine des microvésicules membranaires nommées épididymosomes. somes. Différentes protéines sont associées à ces vésicules riches en cholestérol et en sphingomyéline. Nous avons montré que certaines de ces protéines associées aux épididymosomes sont sélectivement transférées aux spermatozoïdes au cours du transit épididymaire.

En utilisant une approche protéomique, nous avons identifié certaines de ces protéines. Celles-ci comprennent les enzymes impliquées dans la voie métabolique des polyols. Nous avons également mis en évidence les interactions entre le MIF (Macrophage migration Inhibitory Factor) sécrété par l’épididyme et le spermatozoïde. Tant les polyols que le MIF peuvent être impliqués dans le contrôle de la motilité des spermatozoïdes au cours de leur transit épididymaire.

Ces résultats illustrent l’importance de la sécrétion apocrine dans la maturation des spermatozoïdes au cours de leur transit dans le tractus reproducteur mâle.


Although differentiated spermatozoa are incapable of transcriptional or translational activity, the macromolecule composition of their surface undergoes major changes during passage in the male reproductive tract. These changes are due to sequential, well orchestrated interactions between male reproductive tract secretions and the spermatozoan, particularly as it travels along the epididymis. Some of the sperm proteins acquired during maturation along the excurrent duct behave as integral membrane proteins. In fact, some epididymis-derived proteins are glycosyl phosphatidylinositol (GPI) anchored to the sperm plasma membrane, which raises the question of the mechanisms by which these proteins are secreted by the epididymal epithelium.

Our laboratory has identified a family of proteins added to the sperm surface during epididymal transit. These proteins are GPI anchored and the deduced amino acid sequences revealed the absence of a signal peptide in the N-terminal sequence of these proteins. These findings suggest that these proteins are secreted in an apocrine manner by the epididymal epithelium. Apocrine secretion involves formation of a cytoplasmic bleb in the apical region of the epithelial cells that is released into the intraluminal compartment. These blebs disintegrate and release small membranous vesicles generically called exosomes or epididymosomes when secreted by the epididymis. These vesicles are rich in sphingomyelin and are characterized by a high cholesterol/phospholipid ratio. Exosomes have also been reported to be secreted by the prostate, epididymis, and vas deferens.

Many proteins are associated with epididymosomes, and some of them are selectively transferred to spermatozoa during epididymal transit. We have identified some of these proteins by a proteomic approach, including an aldose reductase and a sorbitol dehydrogenase, two enzymes involved in the polyol pathway. Another protein associated with epididymosomes that is transferred to spermatozoa is a cytokine called “Macrophage migration Inhibitory Factor”. During epididymal maturation, this protein is associated with the outer dense fibers of the sperm flagellum and modulates the formation of disulfide bonds. It is hypothesized that both the polyol pathway and apocrine secretion of MIF by the epididymal epithelium modulate sperm motility during transit along the male reproductive tract. Further research is needed to understand the functions of other proteins secreted in an apocrine manner by the various glands of the male reproductive tract.


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Correspondence to Robert Sullivan.

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Mots clés

  • épididyme
  • exosomes
  • maturation
  • sécrétion
  • protéines

Key words

  • epididymis
  • exosomes
  • maturation
  • secretion
  • proteins