Background: The vitamin D receptor (VDR) is expressed in human testis, and vitamin D (VD) has been suggested to affect survival and function of mature spermatozoa. Indeed, VDR knockout mice and VD deficient rats show decreased sperm counts and low fertility. However, the cellular response to VD is complex, since it is not solely dependent on VDR expression, but also on cellular uptake of circulating VD and presence and activity of VD metabolizing enzymes. Expression of VD metabolizing enzymes has not previously been investigated in human testis and male reproductive tract. Therefore, we performed a comprehensive analysis of the expression of VDR, VD activating (CYP2R1, CYP27A1, CYP27B1) and inactivating (CYP24A1) enzymes in the testis, epididymis, seminal vesicle (SV), prostate and spermatozoa.
Methods: Tissue samples were obtained after orchiectomy (testis n = 13; epididymis n = 7), prostatectomy (prostate n = 5 and SVs n = 3) and semen samples obtained after ejaculation (n = 13). mRNA was detected with RT-PCR and expression of proteins was determined by immunohistochemistry.
Results: VDR and VD metabolizing enzymes were concomitantly expressed in round and elongated spermatids, vesicles within the caput epididymis, and glandular epithelium of cauda epididymis, SV and prostate. The expression pattern in ejaculated spermatozoa varied, although, concomitant expression of VDR, CYP2R1, CYP27B1 and CYP24A1 was observed in neck and midpiece in a subpopulation of mature spermatozoa.
Conclusion: On the basis of the marked expression of VDR and the VD metabolizing enzymes in human testis, ejaculatory tract and mature spermatozoa, we suggest that VD is important for spermatogenesis and maturation of human spermatozoa.