Luminal acidification in parts of the male reproductive tract generates an appropriate pH environment in which spermatozoa mature and are stored. The cellular mechanisms of proton (H ) secretion in the epididymis and the proximal vas deferens involve the activity of an apical vacuolar H ATPase in specialized cell types, as well as an apical Na /H exchanger in some tubule segments. In this study we used Western blotting and immunocytochemistry to localize the H ATPase in various segments of the male reproductive tract in rat and man as a first step toward a more complete understanding of luminal acidification processes in this complex system of tissues. Immunoblotting of isolated total cell membranes indicated a variable amount of H ATPase in various segments of the rat reproductive tract. In addition to its known expression in distinct cell types in the epididymis and vas deferens, the H ATPase was also localized at the apical pole and in the cytoplasm of epithelial cells in the efferent duct (nonciliated cells), the ampulla of the vas deferens and the ventral prostate (scattered individual cells), the dorsal and lateral prostate, the ampullary gland, the coagulating gland, and all epithelial cells of the prostatic and penile urethra. Both apical and basolateral localization of the protein were found in epithelial cells of the prostatic ducts in the lateral prostate and in periurethral tissue. Only cytoplasmic, mostly perinuclear localization of the H ATPase was found in all epithelial cells of the seminal vesicles and in most cells of the ventral prostate and coagulating gland. No staining was detected in the seminiferous tubules, rete testis, and bulbourethral gland. In human tissue, H ATPase-rich cells were detected in the epididymis, prostate, and prostatic urethra. We conclude that the vacuolar H ATPase is highly expressed in epithelial cells of most segments of the male reproductive tract in rat and man, where it may be involved in H secretion and/or intracellular processing of the material endocytosed from the luminal fluid or destined to be secreted by exocytosis.
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