Using transgenic mice, we have recently shown that 5 kb of the 5'-flanking region of the mouse epididymal retinoic acid-binding protein (mE-RABP) gene contains all of the information required for spatial and temporal gene expression in the epididymis. To identify the important cis-DNA regulatory element(s) involved in the tissue-, region-, and cell-specific expression of the mE-RABP gene, the 5-kb DNA fragment was sequenced. A computer analysis of the nucleotide sequence showed the presence of a new gene located 1.7 kb upstream from the mE-RABP gene transcription initiation site. The analysis of the open reading frame showed that the new gene encoded a putative 17-kDa lipocalin (named mEP17) related to mE-RABP. A 600-bp complementary DNA encoding mEP17 was cloned by rapid amplification of 3'-cDNA ends from epididymal total RNA. Two mEP17 RNA species (1 and 3.1 kb in size) were detected by Northern blot in the epididymis, but not in other tissues tested. In situ hybridization analyses showed that, unlike mE-RABP messenger RNA (mRNA), which is expressed in the distal caput epididymidis, mEP17 mRNA was detected only in the principal cells of the initial segment. The spatial expression and homology with mE-RABP suggest that mEP17 may act as a retinoid carrier protein within the epididymis. mEP17 mRNA expression disappeared 5 days postcastration. Four days after unilateral castration, mEP17 mRNA had nearly disappeared in the epididymis from the castrated side, but not from the intact side. In addition, testosterone replacement to bilaterally castrated mice failed to restore gene expression. We conclude that mEP17 gene expression is dependent on testicular factors circulating in the luminal fluid. Together our results suggest that mE-RABP and mEP17 genes were generated by duplication and that evolution led to a different region-specific gene expression and regulation in the epididymis.