The epididymis-specific antimicrobial peptide β-defensin 15 is required for sperm motility and male fertility in the rat (Rattus norvegicus)

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2011 Feb;68(4):697-708. doi: 10.1007/s00018-010-0478-4. Epub 2010 Aug 8.


Spermatozoa acquire forward motility and fertilizing capacity during their transit through the epididymis. The maturation process involves modifications of the sperm surface by different proteins that are secreted by a series of specialized regions in the epididymal epithelium. Here we show that the rat epididymis-specific β-defensin 15 (Defb15) exhibits an androgen-dependent expression pattern, and it can bind to the acrosomal region of caput sperm. Coculture of caput spermatozoa with Defb15 antibody in vitro resulted in a significant decline in sperm motility. Moreover, the total and progressive motility of the spermatozoa dramatically decreased in rats when Defb15 was downregulated by lentivirus-mediated RNAi in vivo. Remarkably, knock down of Defb15 led to a reduction in fertility and embryonic development failure. In addition, the recombinant Defb15 showed antimicrobial activity in a dose-dependent fashion. These results suggest that Defb15 plays a dual role in both sperm maturation and pathogen defense in rat epididymis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / pharmacology
  • Epididymis / metabolism*
  • Epididymis / ultrastructure
  • Fertility*
  • Fertilization
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Gene Knockout Techniques
  • Male
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Recombinant Proteins / pharmacology
  • Sperm Motility*
  • beta-Defensins / analysis*
  • beta-Defensins / genetics
  • beta-Defensins / metabolism*
  • beta-Defensins / pharmacology


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • beta-Defensins