Lgr5, a marker of stem cells in many organs, is found expressed in cells scattered through the ovarian epithelium that expand to repair and regenerate the damaged ovarian surface after each ovulation. Lgr5-positive stem cells in the ovary and the fimbria of the oviduct may be critical cells of origin for ovarian cancer.
Organogenesis of the testis is initiated when expression of Sry in pre-Sertoli cells directs the gonad toward a male-specific fate. The cells in the early bipotential gonad undergo de novo organization to form testis cords that enclose germ cells inside tubules lined by epithelial Sertoli cells. Although Sertoli cells are a driving force in the de novo formation of testis cords, recent studies in mouse showed that reorganization of the vasculature and of interstitial cells also play critical roles in testis cord morphogenesis. However, the mechanism driving reorganization of the vasculature during fetal organogenesis remained unclear. Here we demonstrate that fetal macrophages are associated with nascent gonadal and mesonephric vasculature during the initial phases of testis morphogenesis. Macrophages mediate vascular reorganization and prune errant germ cells and somatic cells after testis architecture is established. We show that gonadal macrophages are derived from primitive yolk-sac hematopoietic progenitors and exhibit hallmarks of M2 activation status, suggestive of angiogenic and tissue remodeling functions. Depletion of macrophages resulted in impaired vascular reorganization and abnormal cord formation. These findings reveal a previously unappreciated role for macrophages in testis morphogenesis and suggest that macrophages are an intermediary between neovascularization and organ architecture during fetal organogenesis.
Egg incubation temperature determines offspring sex in many reptilian species, including red-eared slider turtles, where embryos incubated at low temperatures during the initial stages of gonad formation develop as males, while those kept at higher temperatures develop as females. Incubation at the threshold, or pivotal, temperature (PvT) yields an even ratio of males and females. This strong susceptibility to temperature indicates that each embryo of this species is competent to develop as a male or a female. However, the mechanism that determines sexual fate at the PvT has not been identified. One possibility is that sexual fate is stochastic at the PvT, but coordinated by systemic signals within a single embryo. If this is the case, gonads explanted separately to culture should not coordinate their fate. Here we show that gonad pairs from embryos incubated at the PvT share a strong predisposition for one sex or the other when cultured in isolation, indicating that they were affected by shared genetic signals, maternally-deposited yolk hormones or other transient influences received prior to the stage of dissection. In ovo studies involving shifts from the male- or female-producing temperature to the PvT further indicate that embryos adopt a sexual differentiation trajectory many days prior to the onset of morphological differentiation into testes or ovaries and usually maintain this fate in the absence of an extreme temperature signal favoring the development of the other sex. Our findings therefore suggest that the outcome of sex determination in these reptiles is heavily influenced (i) by an inherent predisposition at the PvT and (ii) by the sexual differentiation trajectory established early in gonad development under male- or female-producing temperatures.
Mammalian sex determination is controlled by antagonistic pathways that are initially co-expressed in the bipotential gonad and subsequently become male- or female-specific. In XY gonads, testis development is initiated by upregulation of Sox9 by SRY in pre-Sertoli cells. Disruption of either gene leads to complete male-to-female sex reversal. Ovarian development is dependent on canonical Wnt signaling through Wnt4, Rspo1 and ?-catenin. However, only a partial female-to-male sex reversal results from disruption of these ovary-promoting genes. In Wnt4 and Rspo1 mutants, there is evidence of pregranulosa cell-to-Sertoli cell transdifferentiation near birth, following a severe decline in germ cells. It is currently unclear why primary sex reversal does not occur at the sex-determining stage, but instead occurs near birth in these mutants. Here we show that Wnt4-null and Rspo1-null pregranulosa cells transition through a differentiated granulosa cell state prior to transdifferentiating towards a Sertoli cell fate. This transition is preceded by a wave of germ cell death that is closely associated with the disruption of pregranulosa cell quiescence. Our results suggest that maintenance of mitotic arrest in pregranulosa cells may preclude upregulation of Sox9 in cases where female sex-determining genes are disrupted. This may explain the lack of complete sex reversal in such mutants at the sex-determining stage.
In vertebrates, primary sex determination refers to the decision within a bipotential organ precursor to differentiate as a testis or ovary. Bifurcation of organ fate begins between embryonic day (E) 11.0-E12.0 in mice and likely involves a dynamic transcription network that is poorly understood. To elucidate the first steps of sexual fate specification, we profiled the XX and XY gonad transcriptomes at fine granularity during this period and resolved cascades of gene activation and repression. C57BL/6J (B6) XY gonads showed a consistent ~5-hour delay in the activation of most male pathway genes and repression of female pathway genes relative to 129S1/SvImJ, which likely explains the sensitivity of the B6 strain to male-to-female sex reversal. Using this fine time course data, we predicted novel regulatory genes underlying expression QTLs (eQTLs) mapped in a previous study. To test predictions, we developed an in vitro gonad primary cell assay and optimized a lentivirus-based shRNA delivery method to silence candidate genes and quantify effects on putative targets. We provide strong evidence that Lmo4 (Lim-domain only 4) is a novel regulator of sex determination upstream of SF1 (Nr5a1), Sox9, Fgf9, and Col9a3. This approach can be readily applied to identify regulatory interactions in other systems.
Teratomas represent a critical interface between stem cells, differentiation and tumorigenesis. These tumors are composed of cell types representing all three germ layers reflecting the pluripotent nature of their cell of origin. The study of these curious tumors became possible when Leroy Stevens identified the 129 mouse strain as a model of spontaneous testicular teratoma and later isolated a substrain carrying the Ter mutation, a potent modifier of tumor incidence. Early studies with 129 mice lead to the discovery of embryonal carcinoma (EC) cells which played a foundational role in the embryonic stem (ES) cell field and the study of pluripotency. The cells of origin of testicular teratomas are germ cells. During early development, primordial germ cells diverge from somatic differentiation and establish their pluripotent nature, maintaining or re-expressing core pluripotency genes; Oct4, Sox2 and Nanog. It is believed that a misregulation of male germ cell pluripotency plays a critical role in teratoma development. Several mouse models of teratoma development have now been identified, including a chromosome substitution strain, 129-Chr19(MOLF), conditional Dmrt1 and Pten alleles and the Ter mutation in the Dnd1 gene. However, it is still unknown what role somatic cells and/or physiology play in the sensitivity to teratoma development. These unusual tumors may hold the key to understanding how pluripotency is regulated in vivo.
BACKGROUND: We describe the genome of the western painted turtle, Chrysemys picta bellii, one of the most widespread, abundant, and well-studied turtles. We place the genome into a comparative evolutionary context, and focus on genomic features associated with tooth loss, immune function, longevity, sex differentiation and determination, and the species physiological capacities to withstand extreme anoxia and tissue freezing. RESULTS: Our phylogenetic analyses confirm that turtles are the sister group to living archosaurs, and demonstrate an extraordinarily slow rate of sequence evolution in the painted turtle. The ability of the painted turtle to withstand complete anoxia and partial freezing appears to be associated with common vertebrate gene networks, and we identify candidate genes for future functional analyses. Tooth loss shares a common pattern of pseudogenization and degradation of tooth-specific genes with birds, although the rate of accumulation of mutations is much slower in the painted turtle. Genes associated with sex differentiation generally reflect phylogeny rather than convergence in sex determination functionality. Among gene families that demonstrate exceptional expansions or show signatures of strong natural selection, immune function and musculoskeletal patterning genes are consistently over-represented. CONCLUSIONS: Our comparative genomic analyses indicate that common vertebrate regulatory networks, some of which have analogs in human diseases, are often involved in the western painted turtles extraordinary physiological capacities. As these regulatory pathways are analyzed at the functional level, the painted turtle may offer important insights into the management of a number of human health disorders.
Notch signaling components have long been detected in Sertoli and germ cells in the developing and mature testis. However, the role of this pathway in testis development and spermatogenesis remains unknown. Using reporter mice expressing green fluorescent protein following Notch receptor activation, we found that Notch signaling was active in Sertoli cells at various fetal, neonatal, and adult stages. Since Notch signaling specifies stem cell fate in many developing and mature organ systems, we hypothesized that maintenance and differentiation of gonocytes and/or spermatogonial stem cells would be modulated through this pathway in Sertoli cells. To this end, we generated mutant mice constitutively expressing the active, intracellular domain of NOTCH1 (NICD1) in Sertoli cells. We found that mutant Sertoli cells were morphologically normal before and after birth, but presented a number of functional changes that drastically affected gonocyte numbers and physiology. We observed aberrant exit of gonocytes from mitotic arrest, migration toward cord periphery, and premature differentiation before birth. These events, presumably unsupported by the cellular microenvironment, were followed by gonocyte apoptosis and near complete disappearance of the gonocytes by day 2 after birth. Molecular analysis demonstrated that these effects are correlated with a dysregulation of Sertoli-expressed genes that are required for germ cell maintenance, such as Cyp26b1 and Gdnf. Taken together, our results demonstrate that Notch signaling is active in Sertoli cells throughout development and that proper regulation of Notch signaling in Sertoli cells is required for the maintenance of gonocytes in an undifferentiated state during fetal development.
Leydig cells are the steroidogenic lineage of the mammalian testis that produces testosterone, a key hormone required throughout male fetal and adult life for virilization and spermatogenesis. Both fetal and adult Leydig cells arise from a progenitor population in the testis interstitium but are thought to be lineage-independent of one another. Genetic evidence indicates that Notch signaling is required during fetal life to maintain a balance between differentiated Leydig cells and their progenitors, but the elusive progenitor cell type and ligands involved have not been identified. In this study, we show that the Notch pathway signals through the ligand JAG1 in perivascular interstitial cells during fetal life. In the early postnatal testis, we show that circulating levels of testosterone directly affect Notch signaling, implicating a feedback role for systemic circulating factors in the regulation of progenitor cells. Between Postnatal Days 3 and 21, as fetal Leydig cells disappear from the testis and are replaced by adult Leydig cells, the perivascular population of interstitial cells active for Notch signaling declines, consistent with distinct regulation of adult Leydig progenitors.
During the differentiation of the mammalian embryonic testis, two compartments are defined: the testis cords and the interstitium. The testis cords give rise to the adult seminiferous tubules, whereas steroidogenic Leydig cells and other less well characterized cell types differentiate in the interstitium (the space between testis cords). Although the process of testis cord formation is essential for male development, it is not entirely understood. It has been viewed as a Sertoli-cell driven process, but growing evidence suggests that interstitial cells play an essential role during testis formation. However, little is known about the origin of the interstitium or the molecular and cellular diversity within this early stromal compartment. To better understand the process of mammalian gonad differentiation, we have undertaken an analysis of developing interstitial/stromal cells in the early mouse testis and ovary. We have discovered molecular heterogeneity in the interstitium and have characterized new markers of distinct cell types in the gonad: MAFB, C-MAF, and VCAM1. Our results show that at least two distinct progenitor lineages give rise to the interstitial/stromal compartment of the gonad: the coelomic epithelium and specialized cells along the gonad-mesonephros border. We demonstrate that both these populations give rise to interstitial precursors that can differentiate into fetal Leydig cells. Our analysis also reveals that perivascular cells migrate into the gonad from the mesonephric border along with endothelial cells and that these vessel-associated cells likely represent an interstitial precursor lineage. This study highlights the cellular diversity of the interstitial cell population and suggests that complex cell-cell interactions among cells in the interstitium are involved in testis morphogenesis.
The initiation of de novo testis cord organization in the fetal gonad is poorly understood. Endothelial cell migration into XY gonads initiates testis morphogenesis. However, neither the signals that regulate vascularization of the gonad nor the mechanisms through which vessels affect tissue morphogenesis are known. Here, we show that Vegf signaling is required for gonad vascularization and cord morphogenesis. We establish that interstitial cells express Vegfa and respond, by proliferation, to endothelial migration. In the absence of vasculature, four-dimensional imaging of whole organs revealed that interstitial proliferation is reduced and prevents formation of wedge-like structures that partition the gonad into cord-forming domains. Antagonizing vessel maturation also reduced proliferation. However, proliferation of mesenchymal cells was rescued by the addition of PDGF-BB. These results suggest a pathway that integrates initiation of vascular development and testis cord morphogenesis, and lead to a model in which undifferentiated mesenchyme recruits blood vessels, proliferates in response, and performs a primary function in the morphogenesis and patterning of the developing organ.
Human germ cell tumors show a strong sensitivity to genetic background similar to Dnd1(Ter/Ter) mutant mice, where testicular teratomas arise only on the 129/SvJ genetic background. The introduction of the Bax mutation onto mixed background Dnd1(Ter/Ter) mutants, where teratomas do not typically develop, resulted in a high incidence of teratomas. However, when Dnd1(Ter/Ter); Bax(-/-) double mutants were backcrossed to C57BL/6J, no tumors arose. Dnd1(Ter/Ter) germ cells show a strong downregulation of male differentiation genes including Nanos2. In susceptible strains, where teratomas initiate around E15.5-E17.5, many mutant germ cells fail to enter mitotic arrest in G0 and do not downregulate the pluripotency markers NANOG, SOX2 and OCT4. We show that DND1 directly binds a group of transcripts that encode negative regulators of the cell cycle, including p27(Kip1) and p21(Cip)(1). P27(Kip1) and P21(Cip1) protein are both significantly decreased in Dnd1(Ter/Ter) germ cells on all strain backgrounds tested, strongly suggesting that DND1 regulates mitotic arrest in male germ cells through translational regulation of cell cycle genes. Nonetheless, in C57BL/6J mutants, germ cells arrest prior to M-phase of the cell cycle and downregulate NANOG, SOX2 and OCT4. Consistent with their ability to rescue cell cycle arrest, C57BL/6J germ cells overexpress negative regulators of the cell cycle relative to 129/SvJ. This work suggests that reprogramming of pluripotency in germ cells and prevention of tumor formation requires cell cycle arrest, and that differences in the balance of cell cycle regulators between 129/SvJ and C57BL/6 might underlie differences in tumor susceptibility.
Oestrogen exerts a robust yet imperfectly understood effect on sexual development in vertebrate embryos. New work by Pask and colleagues in BMC Biology indicates that it may interfere with male development by preventing nuclear localization of SOX9, a master regulator of the testis differentiation pathway. See research article http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7007/8/113.
Production of male offspring in viviparous eutherian mammals requires a sex-determining mechanism resistant to maternal hormones. This constraint is relaxed in egg-laying species, which are sensitive to hormones during sex determination and often use an increase in aromatase, the estrogen-synthesizing enzyme, as a key feminizing signal. In the turtle Trachemys scripta, sex is normally determined by temperature, but estrogen treatment overrides this cue and leads exclusively to female development. We assessed whether the expression of SOX9, a central male sex-determining gene in mammals, or three other conserved transcription factors (WT1, GATA4, and LHX9) was regulated by estrogen signaling in the turtle. As in mice, all somatic cell types in the immature turtle gonad initially expressed WT1 and GATA4, whereas SOX9 was restricted to the Sertoli precursors and LHX9 to the coelomic epithelium and interstitium. After the bipotential period, SOX9 was abruptly down-regulated at the female temperature. Strikingly, embryos treated with beta-estradiol at the male temperature lost SOX9 expression more than two stages earlier than controls, though WT1, GATA4, and LHX9 were unaffected. Conversely, inhibition of estrogen synthesis and signaling prevented or delayed SOX9 down-regulation at the female temperature. These results suggest that endogenous estrogen feminizes the medulla of the bipotential turtle gonad by inhibiting SOX9 expression. This mechanism may be involved in the male-to-female sex reversal in wild populations exposed to environmental estrogens, and is consistent with results showing that the estrogen receptor represses Sox9 to block transdifferentiation of granulosa cells into Sertoli-like cells in the adult mouse ovary.
Dmrt1 (doublesex and mab-3 related transcription factor 1) is a conserved transcriptional regulator of male differentiation required for testicular development in vertebrates. Here, we show that in mice of the 129Sv strain, loss of Dmrt1 causes a high incidence of teratomas, whereas these tumors do not form in Dmrt1 mutant C57BL/6J mice. Conditional gene targeting indicates that Dmrt1 is required in fetal germ cells but not in Sertoli cells to prevent teratoma formation. Mutant 129Sv germ cells undergo apparently normal differentiation up to embryonic day 13.5 (E13.5), but some cells fail to arrest mitosis and ectopically express pluripotency markers. Expression analysis and chromatin immunoprecipitation identified DMRT1 target genes, whose missexpression may underlie teratoma formation. DMRT1 indirectly activates the GDNF coreceptor Ret, and it directly represses the pluripotency regulator Sox2. Analysis of human germ cell tumors reveals similar gene expression changes correlated to DMRT1 levels. Dmrt1 behaves genetically as a dose-sensitive tumor suppressor gene in 129Sv mice, and natural variation in Dmrt1 activity can confer teratoma susceptibility. This work reveals a genetic link between testicular dysgenesis, pluripotency regulation, and teratoma susceptibility that is highly sensitive to genetic background and to gene dosage.
Despite the identification of some key genes that regulate sex determination, most cases of disorders of sexual development remain unexplained. Evidence suggests that the sexual fate decision in the developing gonad depends on a complex network of interacting factors that converge on a critical threshold. To elucidate the transcriptional network underlying sex determination, we took the first expression quantitative trait loci (eQTL) approach in a developing organ. We identified reproducible differences in the transcriptome of the embryonic day 11.5 (E11.5) XY gonad between C57BL/6J (B6) and 129S1/SvImJ (129S1), indicating that the reported sensitivity of B6 to sex reversal is consistent with a higher expression of a female-like transcriptome in B6. Gene expression is highly variable in F2 XY gonads from B6 and 129S1 intercrosses, yet strong correlations emerged. We estimated the F2 coexpression network and predicted roles for genes of unknown function based on their connectivity and position within the network. A genetic analysis of the F2 population detected autosomal regions that control the expression of many sex-related genes, including Sry (sex-determining region of the Y chromosome) and Sox9 (Sry-box containing gene 9), the key regulators of male sex determination. Our results reveal the complex transcription architecture underlying sex determination, and provide a mechanism by which individuals may be sensitized for sex reversal.
A critical element of successful sexual reproduction is the generation of sexually dimorphic adult reproductive organs, the testis and ovary, which produce functional gametes. Examination of different vertebrate species shows that the adult gonad is remarkably similar in its morphology across different phylogenetic classes. Surprisingly, however, the cellular and molecular programs employed to create similar organs are not evolutionarily conserved. We highlight the mechanisms used by different vertebrate model systems to generate the somatic architecture necessary to support gametogenesis. In addition, we examine the different vertebrate patterns of germ cell migration from their site of origin to colonize the gonad and highlight their roles in sex-specific morphogenesis. We also discuss the plasticity of the adult gonad and consider how different genetic and environmental conditions can induce transitions between testis and ovary morphology.
Activation by the Y-encoded testis determining factor SRY and maintenance of expression of the Sox9 gene encoding the central transcription factor of Sertoli cell differentiation are key events in the mammalian sexual differentiation program. In the mouse XY gonad, SOX9 upregulates Fgf9, which initiates a Sox9/Fgf9 feedforward loop, and Sox9 expression is stimulated by the prostaglandin D2 (PGD2) producing lipocalin prostaglandin D synthase (L-PGDS, or PTDGS) enzyme, which accelerates commitment to the male pathway. In an attempt to decipher the genetic relationships between Sox9 and the L-Pgds/PGD2 pathway during mouse testicular organogenesis, we found that ablation of Sox9 at the onset or during the time window of expression in embryonic Sertoli cells abolished L-Pgds transcription. By contrast, L-Pgds(-/-) XY embryonic gonads displayed a reduced level of Sox9 transcript and aberrant SOX9 protein subcellular localization. In this study, we demonstrated genetically that the L-Pgds/PGD2 pathway acts as a second amplification loop of Sox9 expression. Moreover, examination of Fgf9(-/-) and L-Pgds(-/-) XY embryonic gonads demonstrated that the two Sox9 gene activity amplifying pathways work independently. These data suggest that, once activated and maintained by SOX9, production of testicular L-PGDS leads to the accumulation of PGD2, which in turn activates Sox9 transcription and nuclear translocation of SOX9. This mechanism participates together with FGF9 as an amplification system of Sox9 gene expression and activity during mammalian testicular organogenesis.
Induction and patterning of the testis occurs over a brief window of time. Before male-specific morphogenesis, the gonad primordium is bipotential and capable of developing into either an ovary or testis. However, expression of the transcription factor SRY initiates male development and induces patterning, proliferation, and epithelialization specific to the testis. Male sex determination begins with commitment of Sertoli cells via autonomous and nonautonomous mechanisms. These mechanisms have recently been shown to both promote the male fate and simultaneously repress ovarian development. A second critical event in the development of the testis is the epithelialization of testis cords. After their specification, Sertoli cells epithelialize and surround the male germ line to form large looping structures bound by extracellular matrix. Cells excluded from cord structures are called interstitial cells and comprise several different cell types, including steroidogenic cells, endothelial cells, and a smooth muscle cell that directly surround the cords. Numerous male-specific signaling pathways influence testis cord morphogenesis and specification of distinct cell types, although a coherent progression of events is unclear. In this article we focus on signals in the male gonad that first are responsible for the specification of Sertoli cells, and second for the specification and patterning of interstitial cells.
A homozygous nonsense mutation (Ter) in murine Dnd1 (Dnd1(Ter/Ter)) results in a significant early loss of primordial germ cells (PGCs) prior to colonization of the gonad in both sexes and all genetic backgrounds tested. The same mutation also leads to testicular teratomas only on the 129Sv/J background. Male mutants on other genetic backgrounds ultimately lose all PGCs with no incidence of teratoma formation. It is not clear how these PGCs are lost or what factors directly control the strain-specific phenotype variation. To determine the mechanism underlying early PGC loss we crossed Dnd1(Ter/Ter) embryos to a Bax-null background and found that germ cells were partially rescued. Surprisingly, on a mixed genetic background, rescued male germ cells also generated fully developed teratomas at a high rate. Double-mutant females on a mixed background did not develop teratomas, but were fertile and produced viable off-spring. However, when Dnd1(Ter/Ter) XX germ cells developed in a testicular environment they gave rise to the same neoplastic clusters as mutant XY germ cells in a testis. We conclude that BAX-mediated apoptosis plays a role in early germ cell loss and protects from testicular teratoma formation on a mixed genetic background.
Sex in vertebrates is determined by genetically or environmentally based signals. These signals initiate molecular cascades and cell-cell interactions within the gonad that lead to the adoption of the male or female fate. Previously, genetically and environmentally based mechanisms were thought to be distinct, but this idea is fading as a result of the unexpected discovery of coincident genetic and thermal influences within single species. Together with accumulating phylogenetic evidence of frequent transitions between sex-determining mechanisms, these findings suggest that genetic and environmental sex determination actually represent points on a continuum rather than discrete categories, and that populations may shift in one direction or the other in response to mutations or changing ecological conditions. Elucidation of the underlying molecular basis of sex determination in mice has yielded a bistable model of mutually antagonistic signaling pathways and feedback regulatory loops. This system would be highly responsive to changes in the upstream primary signal and may provide a basis for the rapid evolution of and transitions between different methods of sex determination.
Soon after Sry initiates male sex determination, cells in XY gonads undergo an unusual process of de novo cord formation that results in the organization of Sertoli cells into epithelial tubules enclosing germ cells and partitioning mesenchymal cells and vasculature to the interstitial space of the testis. Recent experiments investigating this dynamic process in four dimensions have begun to shed new light on the collective interactions of multiple cell types during morphogenesis of testis cords.
The fetal gonad is composed of a mixture of somatic cell lineages and germ cells. The fate of the gonad, male or female, is determined by a population of somatic cells that differentiate into Sertoli or granulosa cells and direct testis or ovary development. It is well established that germ cells are not required for the establishment or maintenance of Sertoli cells or testis cords in the male gonad. However, in the agametic ovary, follicles do not form suggesting that germ cells may influence granulosa cell development. Prior investigations of ovaries in which pre-meiotic germ cells were ablated during fetal life reported no histological changes during stages prior to birth. However, whether granulosa cells underwent normal molecular differentiation was not investigated. In cases where germ cell loss occurred secondary to other mutations, transdifferentiation of granulosa cells towards a Sertoli cell fate was observed, raising questions about whether germ cells play an active role in establishing or maintaining the fate of granulosa cells. We developed a group of molecular markers associated with ovarian development, and show here that the loss of pre-meiotic germ cells does not disrupt the somatic ovarian differentiation program during fetal life, or cause transdifferentiation as defined by expression of Sertoli markers. Since we do not find defects in the ovarian somatic program, the subsequent failure to form follicles at perinatal stages is likely attributable to the absence of germ cells rather than to defects in the somatic cells.
The bipotential gonad expresses genes associated with both the male and female pathways. Adoption of the male testicular fate is associated with the repression of many female genes including Wnt4. However, the importance of repression of Wnt4 to the establishment of male development was not previously determined. Deletion of either Fgf9 or Fgfr2 in an XY gonad resulted in up-regulation of Wnt4 and male-to-female sex reversal. We investigated whether the deletion if Wnt4 could rescue sex reversal in Fgf9 and Fgfr2 mutants. XY Fgf9/Wnt4 and Fgfr2/Wnt4 double mutants developed testes with male somatic and germ cells present, suggesting that the primary role of Fgf signaling is the repression of female-promoting genes. Thus, the decision to adopt the male fate is based not only on whether male genes, such as Sox9, are expressed, but also on the active repression of female genes, such as Wnt4. Because loss of Wnt4 results in the up-regulation of Fgf9, we also tested the possibility that derepression of Fgf9 was responsible for the aspects of male development observed in XX Wnt4 mutants. However, we found that the relationship between these two signaling factors is not symmetric: loss of Fgf9 in XX Wnt4(-/-) gonads does not rescue their partial female-to-male sex-reversal.
In vertebrates, the gonad arises as a bipotential primordium that can differentiate as a testis or ovary. Cells are initially primed to adopt either fate by balanced antagonistic signaling pathways and transcription networks. Sexual fate is determined by activating the testis or ovarian pathway and repressing the alternative pathway. A complex, dynamic transcription network underlies this process, as approximately half the genome is being transcribed during this period, and many genes are expressed in a sexually dimorphic manner. This network is highly plastic; however, multiple lines of evidence suggest that many elements of the pathway converge on the stabilization or disruption of Sox9 expression. The single gene mutational approach has led to the identification of ?30 additional genes involved in vertebrate sex determination. However, >50% of human disorders of sexual development (DSDs) are not explained by any of these genes, suggesting many critical elements of the system await discovery. Emerging technologies and genetic resources enable the investigation of the sex determination network on a global scale in the context of a variable genetic background or environmental influences. Using these new tools we can investigate how cells establish a bipotential state that is poised to adopt either sexual fate, and how they integrate multiple signaling and transcriptional inputs to drive a cell fate decision. Elucidating the genetic architecture underlying sex determination in model systems can lead to the identification of conserved modules correlated with phenotypic outcomes, and critical pressure points in the network that predict genes involved in DSDs in humans.
The divergence of distinct cell populations from multipotent progenitors is poorly understood, particularly in vivo. The gonad is an ideal place to study this process, because it originates as a bipotential primordium where multiple distinct lineages acquire sex-specific fates as the organ differentiates as a testis or an ovary. To gain a more detailed understanding of the process of gonadal differentiation at the level of the individual cell populations, we conducted microarrays on sorted cells from XX and XY mouse gonads at three time points spanning the period when the gonadal cells transition from sexually undifferentiated progenitors to their respective sex-specific fates. We analyzed supporting cells, interstitial/stromal cells, germ cells, and endothelial cells. This work identified genes specifically depleted and enriched in each lineage as it underwent sex-specific differentiation. We determined that the sexually undifferentiated germ cell and supporting cell progenitors showed lineage priming. We found that germ cell progenitors were primed with a bias toward the male fate. In contrast, supporting cells were primed with a female bias, indicative of the robust repression program involved in the commitment to XY supporting cell fate. This study provides a molecular explanation reconciling the female default and balanced models of sex determination and represents a rich resource for the field. More importantly, it yields new insights into the mechanisms by which different cell types in a single organ adopt their respective fates.
After their arrival in the fetal gonad, mammalian germ cells express E-cadherin and are found in large clusters, similar to germ cell cysts in Drosophila. In Drosophila, germ cells in cysts are connected by ring canals. Several molecular components of intercellular bridges in mammalian cells have been identified, including TEX14, a protein required for the stabilization of intercellular bridges, and several associated proteins that are components of the cytokinesis complex. This has led to the hypothesis that germ cell clusters in the mammalian gonad arise through incomplete cell divisions. We tested this hypothesis by generating chimeras between GFP-positive and GFP-negative mice. We show that germ cell clusters in the fetal gonad arise through aggregation as well as cell division. Intercellular bridges, however, are likely restricted to cells of the same genotype.
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