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Anne-Amandine Chassot, Isabelle Gillot, and Marie-Christine Chaboissier

Sex differentiation is a unique developmental process. Starting from a bipotential gonad, it gives rise to the ovary and the testis, two highly specialized organs that differ morphologically and physiologically despite sharing common reproductive and endocrine functions. This highlights the specific plasticity of the gonadal precursors and the existence of complex antagonistic genetic regulation. Mammalian sex determination is controlled by paternal transmission of the Y-linked gene, sex-determining region Y (SRY). Using mouse models, it has been shown that the main role of Sry is to activate the expression of the transcription factor Sox9; either one of these two genes is necessary and sufficient to allow testicular development through Sertoli cell differentiation. Thus, defects in SRY/Sry and/or SOX9/Sox9 expression result in male-to-female sex reversal of XY individuals. Molecular mechanisms governing ovarian differentiation remained unknown for a long time, until the discovery of the roles of R-spondin1 (RSPO1) and WNT4. In XX individuals, activation of the β-catenin signaling pathway by the secreted proteins RSPO1 and WNT4 is required to allow granulosa cell differentiation and, in turn, ovarian differentiation. Thus, mutations in RSPO1 result in female-to-male sex reversal of XX patients, and mouse models have allowed the identification of genetic cascades activated by RSPO1 and WNT4 to regulate ovarian development. In this review, we will discuss the respective roles of RSPO1, WNT4, and the β-catenin signaling pathway during ovarian differentiation in mice.

Open access

Nick Warr, Pam Siggers, Joel May, Nicolas Chalon, Madeleine Pope, Sara Wells, Marie-Christine Chaboissier, and Andy Greenfield

Sex determination in mammals is controlled by the dominance of either pro-testis (SRY-SOX9-FGF9) or pro-ovary (RSPO1-WNT4-FOXL2) genetic pathways during early gonad development in XY and XX embryos, respectively. We have previously shown that early, robust expression of mouse Sry is dependent on the nuclear protein GADD45g. In the absence of GADD45g, XY gonadal sex reversal occurs, associated with a major reduction of Sry levels at 11.5 dpc. Here, we probe the relationship between Gadd45g and Sry further, using gain- and loss-of-function genetics. First, we show that transgenic Gadd45g overexpression can elevate Sry expression levels at 11.5 dpc in the B6.YPOS model of sex reversal, resulting in phenotypic rescue. We then show that the zygosity of pro-ovarian Rspo1 is critical for the degree of gonadal sex reversal observed in both B6.YPOS and Gadd45g-deficient XY gonads, in contrast to that of Foxl2. Phenotypic rescue of sex reversal is observed in XY gonads lacking both Gadd45g and Rspo1, but this is not associated with rescue of Sry expression levels at 11.5 dpc. Instead, Sox9 levels are rescued by around 12.5 dpc. We conclude that Gadd45g is absolutely required for timely expression of Sry in XY gonads, independently of RSPO1-mediated WNT signalling, and discuss these data in light of our understanding of antagonistic interactions between the pro-testis and pro-ovary pathways.