To study the role of scrotal vs. body temperature in epididymal function we established a simplified cell culture system from the dog epididymis in which the cells showed a pattern of gene expression similar to that in the human epididymis and retained many characteristics of epididymal epithelial cells. The cultured cells had an epithelial-type cytoskeleton, nuclear androgen receptor protein, and a striking temperature responsiveness. Exposure of the cells to a culture temperature of 37 C, compared to 33 C, had a fast and irreversibly suppressive effect on the levels of an abundant epididymal messenger RNA (mRNA), CE5, which represents the canine counterpart of the human CD52/HE5 mRNA, encoding a major glycosylphoshatidylinnositol (GPI)-anchored sperm membrane glycopeptide. The temperature effect on the mRNA was a direct and specific one, not mediated by temperature influences on the testis and not affecting other epididymal mRNAs. Exposure of the cells to 5,6-dichloro-1-beta-D-ribofuranosylbenzimidazole (25 micrograms/ml culture medium) and cycloheximide (2 micrograms/ml) suggested that the steady state levels of CD52/CE5 mRNA may be controlled posttranscriptionally by changing the half-life of this specific mRNA in response to an extracellular temperature stimulus.