KCNQ1/KCNE1 channels are responsible for the Jervell-Lange-Nielsen cardiac syndrome, which is also characterized by congenital deafness. KCNQ1/KCNE1 is crucial for K+ transport in the inner ear. We show that KCNQ1 and KCNE1 are associated in testis and that their expression is closely regulated during development. Both genes were expressed in undifferentiated germ cells in 21-day-old rats and mostly confined to basal immature germ cells in adulthood. Leydig and Sertoli cells were negative. KCNQ1 and KCNE1 were also studied in various germ-cell pathologies. First, in spontaneous unilateral rat testis atrophy, hematoxylin-eosin analysis revealed massive germ-cell aplasia with only Sertoli cells and groups of interstitial Leydig cells. In these samples, KCNQ1 and KCNE1 were not expressed. In human seminoma samples characterized by a proliferation of undifferentiated germ cells, KCNQ1/KCNE1 protein levels were higher than in healthy samples. Our results demonstrate that the expression of KCNQ1 and KCNE1 is associated with early stages of spermatogenesis and with the presence of undifferentiated healthy or neoplastic germ cells. The presence of a K+ rich-fluid in the seminiferous tubule suggests that KCNQ1/KCNE1 is involved in K+ transport, probably during germ-cell development.
2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.