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Francis Bergeron, Gabriel Nadeau and Robert S Viger

GATA4 is an essential transcription factor required for the initiation of genital ridge formation, for normal testicular and ovarian differentiation at the time of sex determination, and for male and female fertility in adulthood. In spite of its crucial roles, the genes and/or gene networks that are ultimately regulated by GATA4 in gonadal tissues remain to be fully understood. This is particularly true for the steroidogenic lineages such as Leydig cells of the testis where many in vitro (promoter) studies have provided good circumstantial evidence that GATA4 is a key regulator of Leydig cell gene expression and steroidogenesis, but formal proof is still lacking. We therefore performed a microarray screening analysis of MA-10 Leydig cells in which Gata4 expression was knocked down using an siRNA strategy. Analysis identified several GATA4-regulated pathways including cholesterol synthesis, cholesterol transport, and especially steroidogenesis. A decrease in GATA4 protein was associated with decreased expression of steroidogenic genes previously suspected to be GATA4 targets such as Cyp11a1 and Star. Gata4 knockdown also led to an important decrease in other novel steroidogenic targets including Srd5a1, Gsta3, Hsd3b1, and Hsd3b6, as well as genes known to participate in cholesterol metabolism such as Scarb1, Ldlr, Soat1, Scap, and Cyp51. Consistent with the decreased expression of these genes, a reduction in GATA4 protein compromised the ability of MA-10 cells to produce steroids both basally and under hormone stimulation. These data therefore provide strong evidence that GATA4 is an essential transcription factor that sits atop of the Leydig cell steroidogenic program.

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Rajani M George, Katherine L Hahn, Alan Rawls, Robert S Viger and Jeanne Wilson-Rawls

Notch2 and Notch3 and genes of the Notch signaling network are dynamically expressed in developing follicles, where they are essential for granulosa cell proliferation and meiotic maturation. Notch receptors, ligands, and downstream effector genes are also expressed in testicular Leydig cells, predicting a potential role in regulating steroidogenesis. In this study, we sought to determine if Notch signaling in small follicles regulates the proliferation response of granulosa cells to FSH and represses the up-regulation steroidogenic gene expression that occurs in response to FSH as the follicle grows. Inhibition of Notch signaling in small preantral follicles led to the up-regulation of the expression of genes in the steroid biosynthetic pathway. Similarly, progesterone secretion by MA-10 Leydig cells was significantly inhibited by constitutively active Notch. Together, these data indicated that Notch signaling inhibits steroidogenesis. GATA4 has been shown to be a positive regulator of steroidogenic genes, including STAR protein, P450 aromatase, and 3B-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase. We observed that Notch downstream effectors HEY1, HEY2, and HEYL are able to differentially regulate these GATA4-dependent promoters. These data are supported by the presence of HEY/HES binding sites in these promoters. These studies indicate that Notch signaling has a role in the complex regulation of the steroidogenic pathway.