Is the Epididymis a Series of Organs Placed Side By Side?1

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Abstract

The mammalian epididymis is more than a highly convoluted tube divided into four regions: initial segment, caput, corpus and cauda. It is a highly segmented structure with each segment expressing its own and overlapping genes, proteins, and signal transduction pathways. Therefore, the epididymis may be viewed as a series of organs placed side by side. In this review we discuss the contributions of septa that divide the epididymis into segments and present hypotheses as to the mechanism by which septa form. The mechanisms of Wolffian duct segmentation are likened to the mechanisms of segmentation of the renal nephron and somites. The renal nephron may provide valuable clues as to how the Wolffian duct is patterned during development, whereas somitogenesis may provide clues as to the timing of the development of each segment. Emphasis is also placed upon how segments are differentially regulated, in support of the idea that the epididymis can be considered a series of multiple organs placed side by side. One region in particular, the initial segment, which consists of 2 or 4 segments in mice and rats, respectively, is unique with respect to its regulation and vascularity compared to other segments; loss of development of these segments leads to male infertility. Different ways of thinking about how the epididymis functions may provide new directions and ideas as to how sperm maturation takes place.

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