Report on the Boden Conference on the Epididymis: Cellular and Molecular Aspects, 1998

The Boden Conference was held on Feburary 24-28, 1998 at Ranelagh House which is located in the countryside near Robertson, 160 km SW of Sydney, Australia. The venue provided a collegiate environment resulting in friendly and frank exchange of information and ideas. There were 63 participants from 15 different countries, with virtually all of the major laboratories in the field being represented. The meeting was organized as a workshop with time allocated to discussions of 22 invited talks and 37 submitted miniposters. Participants received the book of miniposters about a month before the meeting so that the discussions of the miniposters were informed. The main contributions at the conference have been refereed and was published as a supplement of the Journal of Reproduction and Fertility in August, 1998.

The conference addressed the following topics: epithelial functions regulating the epididymal milieu; gene expression of epididymal proteins and their roles in protecting sperm and modifying their surface; comparative aspects; and practical aspects including targeting the epididymis for contraception, its susceptibility to environmental toxicants and its role in infertility. The meeting was timely for the considerable work on epididymal proteins by groups in Britain, France Germany, the US and Australia, and in identifying the need to avoid duplication of work in this area. J.-L. Dacheux (France) showed that there are at least 150 different proteins in the lumen of the epididymis which presumably play some role in its function. In assessing the evolution of the extratesticular duct system from the archetypic plan displayed in the Chondrichthyes R.C. Jones (Australia) proposed that the biological role of the epididymis is to enhance a male's prospects of achieving paternity in a competitive mating system. This role is dependent on sperm storage in the epididymis, whereas current interest is mainly on sperm maturation. R.J. Aitken (UK) highlighted the need for the epididymis to provide a milieu which minimizes oxidative stress to sperm in his proposal that sperm maturation is a dynamic, redox regulated process with any imbalance possibly leading to a reduction in the potential of sperm to fertilize and loose the integrity of their DNA.

Following up the recent report that the c-ros tyrosine kinase knockout mouse is infertile and does not develop an initial segment of the epididymis, C.-H. Yeung (Germany) demonstrated defects of epididymal sperm in an angulation of the tail and their ability to regulate volume. B.T. Hinton (USA) described encouraging progress towards identifying a lumicrine factor (basic fibroblast growth factor) controlling gene expression in the initial segment of the epididymis. The role of estrogens in epididymal function was debated with J. Clulow (Australia) showing that the reabsorbative function of the ductuli efferentes (they reabsorb 95% of the fluid leaving the testis) is inhibited by estrogen therapy, whereas R.A. Hess (USA) found that fluid reabsorption was also inhibited in the estrogen receptor knockout mouse. K.W. Beagley and M.K. Holland (Australia) considered the epididymis as a target for immunocontraception and the possibility of species specific epididymal proteins which could be used in a program concerned in controlling populations of feral animals.

The International Society of Andrology provided financial support for 3 workers from underdeveloped countries to attend the conference. Y.-L. Zhang (China) presented a report on differential expression of mRNAs in different regions of the epididymis. C. Pholpramool (Thailand) showed that the uptake of L-carnitine into specific regions of the epididymis was not dependent on glucose. M.A. Akbarsha (India) related the structural differentiation of the ductus epididymidis of a lizard to that displayed by mammals, and in a separate report proposed that clear cells in the cauda epididymidis of the rat are principal cells which have adapted to endocytose luminal contents.

The Boden conference was the second international conference on the epididymis, the first being in Hong Kong in 1992. B.T. Hinton and T.T. Turner have undertaken to organize the third meeting in the USA in 2002.

Russell C. Jones, Australia