The laboratory of Sylvie Breton, PhD, examines the regulation of transepithelial transport in the epididymis and vas deferens.

Intercellular communication through novel cell structures

Sylvie Breton, PhD
Sylvie Breton, PhD
Charles and Ann Sanders MGH Research Scholar 2011-2016
Richard Moerschner Endowed MGH Research institute Chair in Men's Health
Investigator, Center for Systems Biology
Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School

The male reproductive tract comprises of a complex system of tissues that contribute to the ability of spermatozoa to carry out their ultimate function of fertilizing an oocyte.

My laboratory examines the regulation of transepithelial transport in the epididymis and vas deferens.

The epithelial lining plays a vital role in establishing the luminal environment in which spermatozoa mature and are stored.

Our strategy is to determine the spatial and temporal interactions between the different cell types that compose these epithelia.

We use a multidisciplinary approach that combines the use of organs in vivo; isolated tissues and cell cultures with three-dimensional imaging by laser scanning and spinning disk confocal microscopy, multi-photon intravital imaging, functional analysis using selective microelectrodes to measure ion fluxes in real time, and a complementary array of other cell molecular and biochemical approaches.

This integrated strategy was essential for us to show the presence of complex communication networks between the different cell types (principal, clear and basal cells) present in the epididymis and vas deferens.

An acidic pH and a low bicarbonate concentration are established in the epididymal luminal fluid. These factors are involved in maintaining sperm in a dormant state during their storage period in this organ.

Defects in luminal acidification has important consequences on male fertility. In addition, significant fluid reabsorption occurs in the epididymis, which results in a marked increase in spermatozoa concentration.

My laboratory focuses on four NIH-funded studies:

  • Luminal acidification and its regulation in the epididymis and vas deferens
  • Water and solute transport in the epididymis
  • Genomic and proteomic profiling of specific cell types and cell-cell crosstalk in the epididymis
  • Three-dimensional modeling of basal cell function in pseudostratified epithelia