Male accessory sex glands produce heparin‐binding proteins that bind to cauda epididymal spermatozoa and are testosterone dependent

Sharyl J. Nass, David J. Miller, Martin A. Winer, Roy L. Ax

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Heparin binds to bovine sperm and stimulates capacitation in vitro. Seminal plasma alters the ability of epididymal sperm to bind heparin, and several heparin‐binding proteins (HBPs) have been identified in bull seminal plasma. This study had three objectives: (1) to identify production sites of seminal plasma HBPs, (2) to determine which HBPs bound to cauda epididymal sperm, and (3) to determine whether presence of HBPs was testosterone dependent. Proteins from bull or rat seminal vesicles, prostates, and bulbourethral glands were separated by heparin affinity high‐performance liquid chromatography. HBPs were found in all accessory glands of rats and bulls, but the major source of bovine seminal plasma HBPs appeared to be seminal vesicles. Between 25% and 50% of the protein from each gland bound to the heparin column, and NaCl concentrations required to elute proteins ranged from 0.15 to 1.4 M. One‐dimensional sodium dodecyl sulfate‐polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS‐PAGE) showed that major HBPs were relatively small, with molecular weights between 13 and 31 kDa, but some HBPs also exhibited higher molecular weights, between 40 and 100 kDa. Radioiodinated HBPs from each bovine gland were incubated with epididymal sperm. Labeled HBPs binding to sperm exhibited molecular weights of 14, 16, 24, and 30 kDa as determined by SDS‐PAGE and autoradiography. The HBP content of the accessory sex glands decreased significantly in castrated rats and was restored to levels of sham‐operated controls by testosterone replacement. Heparin‐binding proteins may play a role in fertilization by attaching to sperm surfaces, enabling heparin‐like glycosaminoglycans in the female reproductive tract to induce capacitation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-246
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular reproduction and development
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • Bulbourethral gland
  • Prostate
  • Seminal plasma
  • Seminal vesicle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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