Epididymal protein targets: a brief history of the development of epididymal protease inhibitor as a contraceptive

J Androl. Nov-Dec 2011;32(6):698-704. doi: 10.2164/jandrol.110.012781. Epub 2011 Mar 25.


The Laboratories for Reproductive Biology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill began collaboration with Human Genome Sciences (Rockville, Maryland) to sequence a human epididymal library and identify epididymal-specific genes. Among the first clones obtained from Human Genome Sciences was a clone for EPPIN (official symbol, SPINLW1). Our laboratory has described EPPIN (epididymal protease inhibitor) as a novel gene on human chromosome 20q12-13.2 that encodes a cysteine-rich protein containing both Kunitz-type and WAP-type 4-disulfide core consensus sequences that characterize it as a protease inhibitor. EPPIN expresses 3 mRNA splice variants that encode 2 protein isoforms found in the testis and epididymis. Of the 2 isoforms, 1 is secreted and 1 lacks a secretory signal piece. EPPIN is predominantly a dimer, although multiples often exist, and in its native form, EPPIN is found on the sperm surface complexed with lactotransferrin and clusterin. During ejaculation, semenogelin from the seminal vesicles is bound to the EPPIN protein complex, initiating a series of events that define EPPIN's function: modulating prostate-specific antigen (PSA) activity, providing antimicrobial protection, and binding semenogelin, thereby inhibiting sperm motility. As PSA hydrolyzes semenogelin in the ejaculate coagulum, spermatozoa gain progressive motility. Using immunization as a tool to study antigen function, we demonstrated that EPPIN is essential for fertility because immunization of male monkeys with recombinant EPPIN results in complete, but reversible, contraception. To exploit our understanding of EPPIN's function, we have developed a high-throughput screen to look for compounds that inhibit EPPIN-semenogelin interaction and mimic anti-EPPIN, inhibiting sperm motility. These compounds are now being developed into a nonhormonal male contraceptive.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Contraceptive Agents, Male / pharmacology*
  • Ejaculation
  • Epididymis / drug effects*
  • Epididymis / enzymology*
  • Fertilization
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / metabolism
  • Protease Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Proteinase Inhibitory Proteins, Secretory / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Proteinase Inhibitory Proteins, Secretory / genetics
  • Proteinase Inhibitory Proteins, Secretory / metabolism
  • Seminal Vesicle Secretory Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Seminal Vesicle Secretory Proteins / metabolism
  • Sperm Motility
  • Testis / metabolism


  • Contraceptive Agents, Male
  • Eppin protein, human
  • Protease Inhibitors
  • Proteinase Inhibitory Proteins, Secretory
  • Seminal Vesicle Secretory Proteins
  • seminal vesicle-specific antigen
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen