Single-cell RNA sequencing reveals the local cell landscape in mouse epididymal initial segment during aging

Immun Ageing. 2023 May 11;20(1):21. doi: 10.1186/s12979-023-00345-9.


Background: Morphological and functional alterations in aging reproductive organs result in decreased male fertility. The epididymis functions as the transition region for post-testicular sperm maturation. And we have previously demonstrated that the epididymal initial segment (IS), a region of the reproductive tract essential for sperm maturation and capacitation, undergoes considerable histological changes and chronic immune activation in mice during aging. However, the local aging-associated cellular and molecular changes in the aged epididymal IS are poorly understood.

Results: We conducted single-cell RNA sequencing analysis on the epididymal IS of young (3-month-old) and old (21-month-old) mice. In total, 10,027 cells from the epididymal IS tissues of young and old mice were obtained and annotated. The cell composition, including the expansion of a principal cell subtype and Ms4a4bHiMs4a6bHi T cells, changed with age. Aged principal cells displayed multiple functional gene expression changes associated with acrosome reaction and sperm maturation, suggesting an asynchronous process of sperm activation and maturation during epididymal transit. Meanwhile, aging-related altered pathways in immune cells, especially the "cell chemotaxis" in Cx3cr1Hi epididymal dendritic cells (eDCs), were identified. The monocyte-specific expression of chemokine Ccl8 increased with age in eDCs. And the aged epididymal IS showed increased inflammatory cell infiltration and cytokine secretion. Furthermore, cell-cell communication analysis indicated that age increased inflammatory signaling in the epididymal IS.

Conclusion: Contrary to the general pattern of lower immune responses in the male proximal genital tract, we revealed an inflammaging status in mouse epididymal initial segment. These findings will allow future studies to enable the delay of male reproductive aging via immune regulation.

Keywords: Epididymis; Initial segment; Reproductive aging; Single-cell RNA sequencing.