Development of the adreno-genital system : female sex determination, ovarian and adrenal gland ontogeny regulated by <em>Wnt-4</em> in mice
Heikkilä, Minna (2002-11-08)
Although the genetic sex of an embryo is determined at conception by the presence or absence of the Y chromosome, both females and males have bipotential, undifferentiated gonads early in their development. Genes and testicular hormones direct differentiation into either testes or ovaries. The first relevant gene to be identified was the Y-linked master regulatory gene, SRY, since when several other genes have been found to be of importance for sex determination.
The primary aim here was to identify the role of Wnt-4 in the development of the gonad and adrenal gland. Wnt-4 was found to be expressed in the developing gonad, the Müllerian duct and the adrenal gland, in addition to the kidney, pituitary gland and mammary gland as observed earlier. Expression in the gonad was found to be regulated in a sex-specific manner. After sex determination Wnt-4 was downregulated in the testis, but the expression persisted until birth in the ovary. Wnt-4-deficient female mice demonstrated a partial female-to-male sex reversal and a reduction in the number of oocytes, while the Müllerian duct was absent from both sexes. Lack of Wnt-4 in the adrenal gland led to reduced aldosterone production, indicating abnormal development of the zona glomerulosa. Flutamide administration to pregnant Wnt-4 heterozygote females was shown to partially restore the sex reversal.
The results suggest that female development is not a default pathway but needs active signalling, in which Wnt-4 plays an essential role.
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