Retinoic Acid Signalling and the Control of Meiotic Entry in the Human Fetal Gonad

Medical Research Council Human Reproductive Sciences Unit, The Queen's Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.
PLoS ONE (Impact Factor: 3.23). 06/2011; 6(6):e20249. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020249
Source: PubMed


The development of mammalian fetal germ cells along oogenic or spermatogenic fate trajectories is dictated by signals from the surrounding gonadal environment. Germ cells in the fetal testis enter mitotic arrest, whilst those in the fetal ovary undergo sex-specific entry into meiosis, the initiation of which is thought to be mediated by selective exposure of fetal ovarian germ cells to mesonephros-derived retinoic acid (RA). Aspects of this model are hard to reconcile with the spatiotemporal pattern of germ cell differentiation in the human fetal ovary, however. We have therefore examined the expression of components of the RA synthesis, metabolism and signalling pathways, and their downstream effectors and inhibitors in germ cells around the time of the initiation of meiosis in the human fetal gonad. Expression of the three RA-synthesising enzymes, ALDH1A1, 2 and 3 in the fetal ovary and testis was equal to or greater than that in the mesonephros at 8-9 weeks gestation, indicating an intrinsic capacity within the gonad to synthesise RA. Using immunohistochemistry to detect RA receptors RARα, β and RXRα, we find germ cells to be the predominant target of RA signalling in the fetal human ovary, but also reveal widespread receptor nuclear localization indicative of signalling in the testis, suggesting that human fetal testicular germ cells are not efficiently shielded from RA by the action of the RA-metabolising enzyme CYP26B1. Consistent with this, expression of CYP26B1 was greater in the human fetal ovary than testis, although the sexually-dimorphic expression patterns of the germ cell-intrinsic regulators of meiotic initiation, STRA8 and NANOS2, appear conserved. Finally, we demonstrate that RA induces a two-fold increase in STRA8 expression in cultures of human fetal testis, but is not sufficient to cause widespread meiosis-associated gene expression. Together, these data indicate that while local production of RA within the fetal ovary may be important in regulating the onset of meiosis in the human fetal ovary, mechanisms other than CYP26B1-mediated metabolism of RA may exist to inhibit the entry of germ cells into meiosis in the human fetal testis.

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Available from: Philippa T K Saunders
    • "The expression patterns implicate NANOS2 and DMRT1; both involved in preventing precocious meiotic entry in mice [76] [77]. The NANOS2 expression is not male-specific in the human foetal testis, but appears to be stronger compared to ovaries from 14 to 20 GW [66]. Accordingly, in the human testis DMRT1 is expressed in Sertoli cells and in a subpopulation of gonocytes and pre-spermatogonia starting from 8 GW [74] [78] (Fig. 1). "
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    ABSTRACT: Development of human gonads is a sex-dimorphic process which evolved to produce sex-specific types of germ cells. The process of gonadal sex differentiation is directed by the action of the somatic cells and ultimately results in germ cells differentiating to become functional gametes through spermatogenesis or oogenesis. This tightly controlled process depends on the proper sequential expression of many genes and signalling pathways. Disturbances of this process can be manifested as a large spectrum of disorders, ranging from severe disorders of sex development (DSD) to - in the genetic male - mild reproductive problems within the testicular dysgenesis syndrome (TDS), with large overlap between the syndromes. These disorders carry an increased but variable risk of germ cell neoplasia. In this review, we discuss the pathogenesis of germ cell neoplasia associated with gonadal dysgenesis, especially in individuals with 46,XY DSD. We summarise knowledge concerning development and sex differentiation of human gonads, with focus on sex-dimorphic steps of germ cell maturation, including meiosis. We also briefly outline the histopathology of germ cell neoplasia in situ (GCNIS) and gonadoblastoma (GDB), which are essentially the same precursor lesion with morphological structure dependent upon the masculinisation of the somatic niche. To assess the risk of germ cell neoplasia in different types of DSD, we have performed a PubMed search and provide here a synthesis of the evidence from studies published since 2006. We present a model for pathogenesis of GCNIS/GDB in TDS/DSD, with the risk of malignancy determined by the presence of the testis-inducing Y-chromosome and the degree of masculinisation. The associations between phenotype and the risk of neoplasia are likely further modulated in each individual by the constellation of the gene polymorphisms and environmental factors.
    No preview · Article · Sep 2015 · Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology
    • "In human fetal ovaries, meiosis is initiated asynchronously from around GW 10, where the presence of RA leads to an up-regulation of STRA8 (Le Bouffant et al., 2010; Childs et al., 2011), followed by initiation of meiosis. In human fetal testes, meiosis is prevented, but the precise mechanisms involved have not yet been investigated in functional studies. "
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    ABSTRACT: What are the effects of experimentally manipulating meiosis signalling by addition of retinoic acid (RA) in cultured human fetal gonads? RA-treatment accelerated meiotic entry in cultured fetal ovary samples, while addition of RA resulted in a dysgenetic gonadal phenotype in fetal testis cultures. One of the first manifestations of sex differentiation is the initiation of meiosis in fetal ovaries. In contrast, meiotic entry is actively prevented in the fetal testis at this developmental time-point. It has previously been shown that RA-treatment mediates initiation of meiosis in human fetal ovary ex vivo. This was a controlled ex vivo study of human fetal gonads treated with RA in 'hanging-drop' tissue cultures. The applied experimental set-up preserves germ cell-somatic niche interactions and the investigated outcomes included tissue integrity and morphology, cell proliferation and survival and the expression of markers of meiosis and sex differentiation. Tissue from 24 first trimester human fetuses was included in this study, all from elective terminations at gestational week (GW) 7-12. Gonads were cultured for 2 weeks with and without addition of 1 µM RA. Samples were subsequently formalin-fixed and investigated by immunohistochemistry and cell counting. Proteins investigated and quantified included; octamer-binding transcription factor 4 (OCT4), transcription factor AP-2 gamma (AP2γ) (embryonic germ cell markers), SRY (sex determining region Y)-box 9 (SOX9), anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) (immature Sertoli cell markers), COUP transcription factor 2 (COUP-TFII) (marker of interstitial cells), forkhead box L2 (FOXL2) (granulosa cell marker), H2A histone family, member X (γH2AX) (meiosis marker), doublesex and mab-3 related transcription factor 1 (DMRT1) (meiosis regulator), cleaved poly ADP ribose polymerase (PARP), cleaved Caspase 3 (apoptosis markers) and Ki-67 antigen (Ki-67) (proliferation marker). Also, proliferation was determined using a 5'-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU) incorporation assay. A novel ex vivo 'hanging-drop' culture model for human fetal gonads was successfully established. Continued proliferation of cells without signs of increased apoptosis was observed after 2 weeks of culture. In cultured fetal ovaries treated with RA, an increased number of meiotic germ cells (P < 0.05) and DMRT1-positive oogonia initiating meiosis (P < 0.05) was observed, which is in agreement with a previous study. In fetal testes, RA-treatment resulted in a decreased number of gonocytes (P < 0.05), a reduced percentage of proliferating gonocytes (P < 0.05), altered expression pattern of the somatic cell markers AMH and COUP-TFII, as well as disrupted seminiferous cord structure and testis morphology. The number of samples included in this study was relatively small due to the limited availability of human fetal tissue. The hanging-drop culture, similarly to other organ culture approaches, allows studies of germ cell-somatic niche interactions and determination of effects after manipulating specific signalling pathways. Our novel finding of disrupted fetal testis development after treatment with RA indicates that abnormal meiosis regulation can potentially cause gonadal dysgenesis. Further studies will elucidate the exact mechanisms and timing of observed effects. This work was supported in part by an ESPE Research Fellowship, sponsored by Novo Nordisk A/S to A.Jø. Additional funding for this project was obtained from The Research Council of the Capital Region of Denmark (E.R.-D.M.), The Research Fund at Rigshospitalet (A.Ju. and J.E.N.), Familien Erichssens Fund (A.Jø.), Dagmar Marshalls Fund (A.Jø.) and Aase & Ejnar Danielsens Fund (A.Jø.). The authors have no conflicts of interest. © The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email:
    No preview · Article · Aug 2015 · Human Reproduction
    • "Simultaneously they acquire the ability to initiate sexual differentiation and enter meiosis, as evidenced through DAZL expression (Anderson et al., 2007; Lin et al., 2008). The expression of the meiosis gatekeeper STRA8 can be detected shortly thereafter (Le Bouffant et al., 2010; Childs et al., 2011). "

    No preview · Article · Sep 2014
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