BACKGROUND: The postnatal development of the epididymis is a complex process that results in a highly differentiated epithelium, divided into several segments. Recent studies indicate a role for RNA interference (RNAi) in the development of the epididymis, however, the actual requirement for RNAi has remained elusive. Here, we present the first evidence of a direct need for RNAi in the differentiation of the epididymal epithelium. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: By utilizing the Cre-LoxP system we have generated a conditional knock-out of Dicer1 in the two most proximal segments of the mouse epididymis. Recombination of Dicer1, catalyzed by Defb41(iCre/wt), took place before puberty, starting from 12 days postpartum. Shortly thereafter, downregulation of the expression of two genes specific for the most proximal epididymis (lipocalin 8 and cystatin 8) was observed. Following this, segment development continued until week 5 at which age the epithelium started to regress back to an undifferentiated state. The dedifferentiated epithelium also showed an increase in estrogen receptor 1 expression while the expression of androgen receptor and its target genes; glutathione peroxidase 5, lipocalin 5 and cysteine-rich secretory protein 1 was downregulated, indicating imbalanced sex steroid signaling. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: At the time of the final epididymal development, Dicer1 acts as a regulator of signaling pathways essential for maintaining epithelial cell differentiation.
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