[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In mammals, male sex determination is governed by SRY-dependent activation of Sox9, whereas female development involves R-spondin1 (RSPO1), an activator of the WNT/beta-catenin signaling pathway. Genetic analyses in mice have demonstrated Sry and Sox9 to be both required and sufficient to induce testicular development. These genes are therefore considered as master regulators of the male pathway. Indeed, female-to-male sex reversal in XX Rspo1 mutant mice correlates with Sox9 expression, suggesting that this transcription factor induces testicular differentiation in pathological conditions. Unexpectedly, here we show that testicular differentiation can occur in XX mutants lacking both Rspo1 and Sox9 (referred to as XX Rspo1(KO)Sox9(cKO) ()), indicating that Sry and Sox9 are dispensable to induce female-to-male sex reversal. Molecular analyses show expression of both Sox8 and Sox10, suggesting that activation of Sox genes other than Sox9 can induce male differentiation in Rspo1(KO)Sox9(cKO) mice. Moreover, since testis development occurs in XY Rspo1(KO)Sox9(cKO) mice, our data show that Rspo1 is the main effector for male-to-female sex reversal in XY Sox9(cKO) mice. Thus, Rspo1 is an essential activator of ovarian development not only in normal situations, but also in sex reversal situations. Taken together these data demonstrate that both male and female sex differentiation is induced by distinct, active, genetic pathways. The dogma that considers female differentiation as a default pathway therefore needs to be definitively revised.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Gonadal differentiation is the first step of mammalian sex determination. The expression of the Y chromosomal testis determining factor Sry leads to up-regulation of the transcription factor Sox9 which promotes testis differentiation. Previous studies showed that Sox9 deficiency induces expression of ovarian markers in XY mutant fetal gonads before they die. To better understand the genome-wide transcriptional profile underlying this process we compared samples from XY Sf1:Cre(Tg/+); Sox9(flox/flox) mutant gonads in which Sox9 is ablated in Sertoli-precursor cells during early stages of gonad development to XX Sox9(flox/flox) ovaries and XY Sox9(flox/flox) testes at E13.5. We found a complex mRNA signature that indicates wide-spread transcriptional de-regulation and revealed for XY mutants at E13.5 an intermediate transcript profile between male and female gonads. However, XY Sf1:Cre(Tg/+); Sox9(flox/flox) mutant gonads develop as ovaries containing XY developing follicles at P0 but less frequently so than in XX control ovaries. Furthermore, we studied the extent to which developing XY mutant ovaries are able to mediate adult fertility and observed that XY oocytes from XY mutant ovaries are competent for fertilization; however, two thirds of them fail to develop beyond two-cell stage embryos. Taken together, we found that XY Sf1:Cre(Tg/+); Sox9(flox/flox) females are capable of producing viable offspring albeit at a reduced level.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Differentiation of germ cells into male gonocytes or female oocytes is a central event in sexual reproduction. Proliferation and differentiation of fetal germ cells depend on the sex of the embryo. In male mouse embryos, germ cell proliferation is regulated by the RNA helicase Mouse Vasa homolog gene and factors synthesized by the somatic Sertoli cells promote gonocyte differentiation. In the female, ovarian differentiation requires activation of the WNT/β-catenin signaling pathway in the somatic cells by the secreted protein RSPO1. Using mouse models, we now show that Rspo1 also activates the WNT/β-catenin signaling pathway in germ cells. In XX Rspo1(-/-) gonads, germ cell proliferation, expression of the early meiotic marker Stra8, and entry into meiosis are all impaired. In these gonads, impaired entry into meiosis and germ cell sex reversal occur prior to detectable Sertoli cell differentiation, suggesting that β-catenin signaling acts within the germ cells to promote oogonial differentiation and entry into meiosis. Our results demonstrate that RSPO1/β-catenin signaling is involved in meiosis in fetal germ cells and contributes to the cellular decision of germ cells to differentiate into oocyte or sperm.
PLoS ONE 01/2011; 6(10):e25641. · 3.53 Impact Factor
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The sex of an individual results from the paternal transmission of the SRY gene located on the Y chromosome. In turn, SRY initiates Sox9 expression, a transcription factor required for testicular differentiation. Ectopic activation of SOX9 in XX Wt1:Sox9 transgenic mice induces female-to-male sex reversal in adult mice. Here we show that complete sex reversal is preceded by a transient phase of ovotestis differentiation with XX Wt1:Sox9 transgenic gonads containing a testicular central region and one or both ovarian poles indicating that Wt1:Sox9 is not as efficient as Sry to induce male development. In XX Wt1:Sox9(Tg/+) gonads, transgenic Sox9 is expressed earlier than Sox9 in XY gonads and is able to induce the expression of EGFP, knocked into the 3' UTR of Sox9 indicating that SOX9 is involved in the initiation and maintenance of its own expression. However, the delayed onset of expression of endogenous Sox9-EGFP suggests that this activation requires other factors, whose expression depends on SOX9. In the testicular regions of the XX Wt1:Sox9 ovotestes, proliferation of the XX fetal germ cells is hampered and they differentiate as pro-spermatogonia. This indicates that XX germ cells are not competent to respond to proliferative signals released from a testicular environment. In the ovarian regions, despite the continuous mRNA expression of the WT1:Sox9 transgene, the SOX9 protein does not accumulate suggesting that regulation of this gene in ovarian cells involves post-transcriptional mechanisms. Finally, ovarian cells of the XX Wt1:Sox9 ovotestis undergo apoptosis during late embryogenesis leading to complete female-to-male sex reversal of the transgenic mice at birth.
[Show abstract][Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: In mammals, the sex of the embryo is determined during development by its commitment either to the male or female genetic program regulating testicular or ovarian organogenesis. Major steps towards unraveling sex determination in mammals are achieved by the identification of key genes involved in human pathologies and the application of mouse genetics to analyze their function. While the expression of Sry and Sox9 is sufficient to induce the male developmental program, the molecular pathways that specify ovarian differentiation were unclear before the recent demonstration that mutations in the RSPO1 gene induce female-to-male sex reversal in XX patients. By generating the corresponding mouse model, we have shown that Rspo1 is so far the earliest known gene controlling the female genetic developmental program. Rspo1 activates the canonical beta-catenin signaling pathway required for female somatic cell differentiation and germ cell commitment into meiosis. The aim of this review is to describe the roles of R-spondins (Rspo)in developmental processes and disorders and the current knowledge obtained from murine models. A particular focus will be on Rspo1 and its crucial function in sex determination.
Sexual Development 02/2008; 2(4-5):219-27. · 2.22 Impact Factor