Roles of male reproductive tract extracellular vesicles in reproduction

Am J Reprod Immunol. 2021 Feb;85(2):e13338. doi: 10.1111/aji.13338. Epub 2020 Sep 17.


Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are secreted cell-derived membrane structures present in all organisms across animal, bacterial, and plant phyla. These vesicles play important roles in cell-cell communication in many processes integral to health and disease. Recent studies demonstrate that EVs and their cargo have influential and conserved roles in male reproduction. While EVs have been isolated from virtually all specialized tissues comprising the male reproductive tract, they are best characterized in the epididymis (epididymosomes) and seminal fluid (seminal fluid extracellular vesicles or prostasomes). Broadly speaking, EVs promote reproductive success through supporting sperm development and function, as well as influencing the physiology of female reproductive tract cells after mating. In this review, we present current knowledge on the composition and function of male reproductive tract EV populations in both normal physiology and pathology, and argue that their functions identify them as critical regulators of fertility and fecundity.

Keywords: epididymis; epididymosome; extracellular vesicle; male reproductive tract; prostasome; prostate; seminal fluid; sperm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Communication
  • Epididymis / physiology*
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prostate / physiology*
  • Reproduction
  • Sperm Motility
  • Spermatozoa / physiology*