Sex reversal following deletion of a single distal enhancer of Sox9.
ABSTRACT: Cell fate decisions require appropriate regulation of key genes. Sox9, a direct target of SRY, is pivotal in mammalian sex determination. In vivo high-throughput chromatin accessibility techniques, transgenic assays, and genome editing revealed several novel gonadal regulatory elements in the 2-megabase gene desert upstream of Sox9 Although others are redundant, enhancer 13 (Enh13), a 557-base pair element located 565 kilobases 5' from the transcriptional start site, is essential to initiate mouse testis development; its deletion results in XY females with Sox9 transcript levels equivalent to those in XX gonads. Our data are consistent with the time-sensitive activity of SRY and indicate a strict order of enhancer usage. Enh13 is conserved and embedded within a 32.5-kilobase region whose deletion in humans is associated with XY sex reversal, suggesting that it is also critical in humans.
Project description:BACKGROUND:In human embryogenesis, loss of SRY (sex determining region on Y), SOX9 (SRY-related HMG box 9) or SF1 (steroidogenic factor 1) function causes disorders of sex development (DSD). A defining event of vertebrate sex determination is male-specific upregulation and maintenance of SOX9 expression in gonadal pre-Sertoli cells, which is preceded by transient SRY expression in mammals. In mice, Sox9 regulation is under the transcriptional control of SRY, SF1 and SOX9 via a conserved testis-specific enhancer of Sox9 (TES). Regulation of SOX9 in human sex determination is however poorly understood. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS:We show that a human embryonal carcinoma cell line (NT2/D1) can model events in presumptive Sertoli cells that initiate human sex determination. SRY associates with transcriptionally active chromatin in NT2/D1 cells and over-expression increases endogenous SOX9 expression. SRY and SF1 co-operate to activate the human SOX9 homologous TES (hTES), a process dependent on phosphorylated SF1. SOX9 also activates hTES, augmented by SF1, suggesting a mechanism for maintenance of SOX9 expression by auto-regulation. Analysis of mutant SRY, SF1 and SOX9 proteins encoded by thirteen separate 46,XY DSD gonadal dysgenesis individuals reveals a reduced ability to activate hTES. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE:We demonstrate how three human sex-determining factors are likely to function during gonadal development around SOX9 as a hub gene, with different genetic causes of 46,XY DSD due a common failure to upregulate SOX9 transcription.
Project description:Disorders of sex development (DSDs) are conditions affecting development of the gonads or genitalia. Variants in two key genes, SRY and its target SOX9, are an established cause of 46,XY DSD, but the genetic basis of many DSDs remains unknown. SRY-mediated SOX9 upregulation in the early gonad is crucial for testis development, yet the regulatory elements underlying this have not been identified in humans. Here, we identified four DSD patients with overlapping duplications or deletions upstream of SOX9. Bioinformatic analysis identified three putative enhancers for SOX9 that responded to different combinations of testis-specific regulators. All three enhancers showed synergistic activity and together drive SOX9 in the testis. This is the first study to identify SOX9 enhancers that, when duplicated or deleted, result in 46,XX or 46,XY sex reversal, respectively. These enhancers provide a hitherto missing link by which SRY activates SOX9 in humans, and establish SOX9 enhancer mutations as a significant cause of DSD.
Project description:During mouse sex determination, transient expression of the Y-linked gene Sry up-regulates its direct target gene Sox9, via a 3.2 kb testis specific enhancer of Sox9 (TES), which includes a core 1.4 kb element, TESCO. SOX9 activity leads to differentiation of Sertoli cells, rather than granulosa cells from the bipotential supporting cell precursor lineage. Here, we present functional analysis of TES/TESCO, using CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing in mice. Deletion of TESCO or TES reduced Sox9 expression levels in XY fetal gonads to 60 or 45% respectively relative to wild type gonads, and reduced expression of the SOX9 target Amh. Although human patients heterozygous for null mutations in SOX9, which are assumed to have 50% of normal expression, often show XY female sex reversal, mice deleted for one copy of Sox9 do not. Consistent with this, we did not observe sex reversal in either TESCO-/- or TES-/- XY embryos or adult mice. However, embryos carrying both a conditional Sox9 null allele and the TES deletion developed ovotestes. Quantitative analysis of these revealed levels of 23% expression of Sox9 compared to wild type, and a significant increase in the expression of the granulosa cell marker Foxl2. This indicates that the threshold in mice where sex reversal begins to be seen is about half that of the ~50% levels predicted in humans. Our results demonstrate that TES/TESCO is a crucial enhancer regulating Sox9 expression in the gonad, but point to the existence of additional enhancers that act redundantly.
Project description:SRY (sex-determining region Y) is widely conserved in eutherian mammals as a sex-determining gene located on the Y chromosome. SRY proteins bind to the testis-specific enhancer of SOX9 (TES) with SF1 to upregulate SOX9 expression in undifferentiated gonads of XY embryos of humans and mice. The core region within TES, named TESCO, is an important enhancer for mammalian sex determination. We show that TESCO of the genus Tokudaia lost enhancer activity caused by mutations in its SRY and SF1 binding sites. Two species of Tokudaia do not have the Y chromosome or SRY, and one species has multiple SRYs located on the neo-Y chromosome consisting of the Y fused with an autosome. The sequence of Tokudaia TESCO exhibited more than 83% identity with mouse TESCO, however, nucleotide substitution(s) were found in two out of three SRY binding sites and in five out of six SF1 binding sites. TESCO of all species showed low enhancer activity in cells co-transfected with SRY and SF1, and SOX9 and SF1 in reporter gene assays. Mutated TESCO, in which nucleotide substitutions found in SRY and SF1 binding sites were replaced with mouse sequence, recovered the activity. Furthermore, SRYs of the SRY-positive species could not activate the mutated TESCO or mouse TESCO, suggesting that SRYs lost function as a sex-determining gene any more. Our results indicate that the SRY dependent sex-determining mechanism was lost in a common ancestor of the genus Tokudaia caused by nucleotide substitutions in SRY and SF1 binding sites after emergence of a new sex-determining gene. We present the first evidence for an intermediate stage of the switchover from SRY to a new sex-determining gene in the evolution of mammalian sex-determining mechanism.
Project description:The transcription factors SRY and SOX9 and RSPO1/WNT4/?-Catenin signaling act as antagonistic pathways to drive testis and ovary development respectively, from a common gonadal primordium in mouse embryos. In this work, we took advantage of a double knockout mouse model to study gonadal development when Sox9 and Wnt4 are both mutated. We show that the XX gonad mutant for Wnt4 or for both Wnt4 and Sox9 develop as ovotestes, demonstrating that ectopic SOX9 function is not required for the partial female-to-male sex reversal caused by a Wnt4 mutation. Sox9 deletion in XY gonads leads to ovarian development accompanied by ectopic WNT/?-catenin signaling. In XY Sox9 mutant gonads, SRY-positive supporting precursors adopt a female-like identity and develop as pre-granulosa-like cells. This phenotype cannot be fully prevented by the deletion of Wnt4 or Rspo1, indicating that SOX9 is required for the early determination of the male supporting cell identity independently of repressing RSPO1/WNT4/?-Catenin signaling. However, in XY Sox9 Wnt4 double mutant gonads, pre-granulosa cells are not maintained, as they prematurely differentiate as mature granulosa cells and then trans-differentiate into Sertoli-like cells. Together, our results reveal the dynamics of the specific and independent actions of SOX9 and WNT4 during gonadal differentiation: SOX9 is essential in the testis for early specification of male-supporting cells whereas WNT4 functions in the ovary to maintain female-supporting cell identity and inhibit male-specific vascular and steroidogenic cell differentiation.
Project description: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.
Project description:SOX9 haploinsufficiency underlies campomelic dysplasia (CD) with or without testicular dysgenesis. Current understanding of the phenotypic variability and mutation spectrum of SOX9 abnormalities remains fragmentary. Here, we report three patients with hitherto unreported SOX9 abnormalities. These patients were identified through molecular analysis of 33 patients with 46,XY disorders of sex development (DSD). Patients 1-3 manifested testicular dysgenesis or regression without CD. Patients 1 and 2 carried probable damaging mutations p.Arg394Gly and p.Arg437Cys, respectively, in the SOX9 C-terminal domain but not in other known 46,XY DSD causative genes. These substitutions were absent from ~120,000 alleles in the exome database. These mutations retained normal transactivating activity for the Col2a1 enhancer, but showed impaired activity for the Amh promoter. Patient 3 harbored a maternally inherited ~491 kb SOX9 upstream deletion that encompassed the known 32.5 kb XY sex reversal region. Breakpoints of the deletion resided within nonrepeat sequences and were accompanied by a short-nucleotide insertion. The results imply that testicular dysgenesis and regression without skeletal dysplasia may be rare manifestations of SOX9 abnormalities. Furthermore, our data broaden pathogenic SOX9 abnormalities to include C-terminal missense substitutions which lead to target-gene-specific protein dysfunction, and enhancer-containing upstream microdeletions mediated by nonhomologous end-joining.
Project description:Sex-reversal cases in humans and genetic models in mice have revealed that the fate of the bipotential gonad hinges upon the balance between pro-testis SOX9 and pro-ovary beta-catenin pathways. Our central query was: if SOX9 and beta-catenin define the gonad's identity, then what do the gonads become when both factors are absent? To answer this question, we developed mouse models that lack either Sox9, beta-catenin, or both in the somatic cells of the fetal gonads and examined the morphological outcomes and transcriptome profiles. In the absence of Sox9 and beta-catenin, both XX and XY gonads progressively lean toward the testis fate, indicating that expression of certain pro-testis genes requires the repression of the beta-catenin pathway, rather than a direct activation by SOX9. We also observed that XY double knockout gonads were more masculinized than their XX counterpart. To identify the genes responsible for the initial events of masculinization and to determine how the genetic context (XX vs. XY) affects this process, we compared the transcriptomes of Sox9/beta-catenin mutant gonads and found that early molecular changes underlying the XY-specific masculinization involve the expression of Sry and 21 SRY direct target genes, such as Sox8 and Cyp26b1. These results imply that when both Sox9 and beta-catenin are absent, Sry is capable of activating other pro-testis genes and drive testis differentiation. Our findings not only provide insight into the mechanism of sex determination, but also identify candidate genes that are potentially involved in disorders of sex development.
Project description:In most mammals, the expression of SRY (sex-determining region on the Y chromosome) initiates the development of testes, and thus determines the sex of the individual. However, despite the pivotal role of SRY, its mechanism of action remains elusive. One important missing piece of the puzzle is the identification of genes regulated by SRY. In this study we used chromatin immunoprecipitation to identify direct SRY target genes. Anti-mouse SRY antibody precipitated a region 7.5 kb upstream of the transcriptional start site of cerebellin 4 precursor (Cbln4), which encodes a secreted protein. Cbln4 is expressed in Sertoli cells in the developing gonad, with a profile mimicking that of the testis-determining gene SRY-box containing gene 9 (Sox9). In transgenic XY mouse embryos with reduced Sox9 expression, Cbln4 expression also was reduced, whereas overexpression of Sox9 in XX mice caused an upregulation of Cbln4 expression. Finally, ectopic upregulation of SRY in vivo resulted in ectopic expression of Cbln4. Our findings suggest that both SRY and SOX9 contribute to the male-specific upregulation of Cbln4 in the developing testis, and they identified a direct in vivo target gene of SRY.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Hormones are critical for early gonadal development in nonmammalian vertebrates, and oestrogen is required for normal ovarian development. In contrast, mammals determine sex by the presence or absence of the SRY gene, and hormones are not thought to play a role in early gonadal development. Despite an XY sex-determining system in marsupial mammals, exposure to oestrogen can override SRY and induce ovarian development of XY gonads if administered early enough. Here we assess the effect of exogenous oestrogen on the molecular pathways of mammalian gonadal development. RESULTS: We examined the expression of key testicular (SRY, SOX9, AMH and FGF9) and ovarian (WNT4, RSPO1, FOXL2 and FST) markers during gonadal development in the marsupial tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii) and used these data to determine the effect of oestrogen exposure on gonadal fate. During normal development, we observed male specific upregulation of AMH and SOX9 as in the mouse and human testis, but this upregulation was initiated before the peak in SRY expression and 4 days before testicular cord formation. Similarly, key genes for ovarian development in mouse and human were also upregulated during ovarian differentiation in the tammar. In particular, there was early sexually dimorphic expression of FOXL2 and WNT4, suggesting that these genes are key regulators of ovarian development in all therian mammals. We next examined the effect of exogenous oestrogen on the development of the mammalian XY gonad. Despite the presence of SRY, exogenous oestrogen blocked the key male transcription factor SOX9 from entering the nuclei of male somatic cells, preventing activation of the testicular pathway and permitting upregulation of key female genes, resulting in ovarian development of the XY gonad. CONCLUSIONS: We have uncovered a mechanism by which oestrogen can regulate gonadal development through the nucleocytoplasmic shuttling of SOX9. This may represent an underlying ancestral mechanism by which oestrogen promotes ovarian development in the gonads of nonmammalian vertebrates. Furthermore, oestrogen may retain this function in adult female mammals to maintain granulosa cell fate in the differentiated ovary by suppressing nuclear translocation of the SOX9 protein. See commentary: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7007/8/110.