Oxytocin (OT) is a neurohypophysial hormone with unclear physiological functions in the male. Several previous studies indicated that OT might have a role in the ejaculatory process, stimulating sperm release from the epididymal storage. In this study we investigated on the presence and function of OT receptor (OTR) in rabbit and human epididymis. By using RT-PCR, Western and binding studies, we found that OTR gene and protein is expressed in the human epididymis and stimulates in vitro contractility. The immunolocalization of OTR suggests that the receptor is not only present in the smooth muscle cells of the human epididymis but also in the epithelial compartment. Experiments performed in rabbit epididymal epithelial (rEE) cells in culture indicate that OT induces the release of an other potent stimulator of epididymal contractility, endothelin-1 (ET-1), Blocking the ET(A) subtype of the ET-1 receptors, by using a specific antagonist (BQ-123), partially counteracts the contractile effect of OT, suggesting positive interactions between the two peptides in regulating epididymal contractility. Finally, to investigate whether an acute OT administration increases sperm release also in humans, we treated oligozoospermic patients with an intravenous bolus of OT (2.5 IU), just before sperm collection. In a small, single blind study, we found that OT almost doubled sperm retrieval when compared with vehicle administration. Our results indicate that OT might have physiological functions also in the male, controlling epididymal motility and sperm progression through the male genital tract.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.