Activin is a well-established modulator of male and female reproduction that stimulates the synthesis and secretion of follicle-stimulating hormone. Nonpituitary effects of activin have also been reported, although the paracrine actions of this growth factor in several reproductive tissues are not well understood. To identify the paracrine functions of activin during mammary gland morphogenesis and tumor progression, we produced transgenic mice that overexpress follistatin (FST), an intrinsic inhibitor of activin, under control of the mouse mammary tumor virus (MMTV) promoter. Although the MMTV-Fst mice were constructed to assess the role of activin in females, expression of the transgene was also observed in the testes and epididymides of males. While all 17 transgenic founder males exhibited copulatory behavior and produced vaginal plugs in females, only one produced live offspring. In contrast, transgenic females were fertile, permitting expansion of transgenic mouse lines. Light and transmission electron microscopic examination of the transgenic testes and epididymides revealed impairment of fluid resorption and sperm transit in the efferent ducts and initial segment of the epididymis, as indicated by accumulation of fluid and sperm stasis. Consequently, a variety of degenerative lesions were observed in the seminiferous epithelium, such as vacuolation and early stages of mineralization and fibrosis. Sperm collected from the caudae epididymidis of MMTV-Fst males had detached heads and were immotile. Together, these data reveal that activin signaling is essential for normal testicular excurrent duct function and that its blockade impairs fertility. These results also suggest that selective inhibitors of activin signaling may provide a useful approach for the development of male contraceptives without compromising androgen synthesis and actions.
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Vol. 87 • No. 2