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© 2019 American Society of Andrology and European Academy of Andrology Background: The epithelial lining of the human epididymis is critical for sperm maturation. This process requires distinct specialized functions in the head, body, and tail of the duct. These region-specific properties are maintained by distinct gene expression profiles which are governed by transcription factor networks, non-coding RNAs, and other factors. Materials and methods: We used genome-wide protocols including DNase-seq, RNA-seq and ChIP-seq to characterize open (active) chromatin, the transcriptome and occupancy of specific transcription factors (TFs) respectively, in caput, corpus, and cauda segments of adult human epididymis tissue and primary human epididymis epithelial (HEE) cell cultures derived from them. RNA-seq following TF depletion or activation, combined with gene ontology analysis also determined TF targets. Results: Among regional differentially expressed transcripts were epithelial-selective transcription factors (TFs), microRNAs, and antiviral response genes. Caput-enriched TFs included hepatocyte nuclear factor 1 (HNF1) and the androgen receptor (AR), both of which were also predicted to occupy cis-regulatory elements identified as open chromatin in HEE cells. HNF1 targets were identified genome-wide using ChIP-seq, in HEE cells. Next, siRNA-mediated depletion of HNF1 revealed a pivotal role for this TF in coordinating epithelial water and solute transport in caput epithelium. The importance of AR in HEE cells was shown by AR ChIP-seq, and by RNA-seq after synthetic androgen (R1881) treatment. AR has a distinct transcriptional program in the HEE cells and likely recruits different co-factors (RUNX1 and CEBPβ) in comparison to those used in prostate epithelium. Discussion and Conclusion: Our data identify many transcription factors that regulate the development and differentiation of HEE cells. Moreover, a comparison between immature and adult HEE cells showed key TFs in the transition to fully differentiated function of this epithelium. These data may help identify new targets to treat male infertility and have the potential to open new avenues for male contraception.

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