Regulation of epithelial function, differentiation, and remodeling in the epididymis

Asian J Androl. 2016 Jan-Feb;18(1):3-9. doi: 10.4103/1008-682X.165946.


The epididymis is a single convoluted tubule lined by a pseudostratified epithelium. Specialized epididymal epithelial cells, the so-called principal, basal, narrow, and clear cells, establish a unique luminal environment for the maturation and storage of spermatozoa. The epididymis is functionally and structurally divided into several segments and sub-segments that create regionally distinct luminal environments. This organ is immature at birth, and epithelial cells acquire their fully differentiated phenotype during an extended postnatal period, but the factors involved in this complex process remain incompletely characterized. In the adult epididymis, the establishment of an acidic luminal pH and low bicarbonate concentration in the epididymis contributes to preventing premature activation of spermatozoa during their maturation and storage. Clear cells are proton-secreting cells throughout the epididymis, but principal cells have distinct acid/base transport properties, depending on their localization within the epididymis. Basal cells are located in all epididymal segments, but they have a distinct morphology depending on the segment and species examined. How this structural plasticity of basal cells is regulated is discussed here. Also, the role of luminal factors and androgens in the regulation of epithelial cells is reviewed in relation to their respective localization in the proximal versus distal regions of the epididymis. Finally, we describe a novel role for CFTR in tubulogenesis and epithelial cell differentiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator / physiology
  • Epididymis / cytology*
  • Epithelial Cells / cytology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice


  • Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator