Distribution of immune cells in the epididymis of the aging Brown Norway rat is segment-specific and related to the luminal content

Biol Reprod. 1999 Sep;61(3):705-14. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod61.3.705.


Remarkable changes occur during aging in the testis and epididymis of the Brown Norway rat. A dramatic increase in the number of halo cells, which are present in the epididymal epithelium and originate from the immune system, is found in animals of increasing age. Halo cells have been postulated to be either lymphocytes or monocytes. We hypothesized that halo cells are a mixture of different immune cells and that their relative composition changes with age. To verify this hypothesis, markers for helper T lymphocytes, cytotoxic T lymphocytes, B lymphocytes, and monocytes-macrophages were used to identify the major categories of immune cells in the epididymides of Brown Norway rats ranging in age from 3 to 24 mo. The numbers of immunocompetent cells in the epididymis were determined in relation to age, epididymal segment, and luminal content. We found that monocytes, helper T lymphocytes, and cytotoxic T lymphocytes belong to the population of halo cells. In addition, a segment-specific increase with age in the number of these immune cells was noted. Finally, we report a segment-specific recruitment of cytotoxic T lymphocytes and monocytes-macrophages in the epididymal epithelium of aged rats whose epididymal lumen contained few spermatozoa. We postulate that accumulation of damaged epithelial cells and antigens of germ cell origin, leaking through a dysfunctional blood-epididymis barrier, may contribute to the active recruitment of immune cells with age.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / immunology*
  • Animals
  • B-Lymphocytes
  • Cell Count
  • Epididymis / immunology*
  • Epithelial Cells / immunology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Macrophages
  • Male
  • Monocytes
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred BN
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer
  • Testis / immunology