Steroidogenic factor 1 (SF1) is essential for pituitary gonadotrope function.
Knockout mice lacking the orphan nuclear receptor steroidogenic factor 1 (SF1) exhibit a complex endocrine phenotype that includes adrenal and gonadal agenesis, impaired expression of pituitary gonadotropins, and absence of the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus (VMH). These multiple defects complicate efforts to delineate primary versus secondary effects of SF1 deficiency in different tissues, such that its direct role in gonadotropes remains uncertain. To define this role, we have expressed Cre recombinase driven by the promoter region of the common alpha subunit of glycoprotein hormones (alpha GSU), thereby inactivating a loxP-modified SF1 locus in the anterior pituitary gland. Although pituitary-specific SF1 knockout mice were fully viable, they were sterile and failed to develop normal secondary sexual characteristics. Their adrenal glands and VMH appeared normal histologically, but their testes and ovaries were severely hypoplastic. alpha GSU-Cre, loxP mice had normal levels of most pituitary hormones, but had markedly decreased expression of LH and FSH. Treatment with exogenous gonadotropins stimulated gonadal steroidogenesis, inducing germ cell maturation in males and follicular and uterine maturation in females--establishing that the gonads can respond to gonadotropins. The pituitary-specific SF1 knockout mice are a novel genetic model of hypogonadotropic hypogonadism that establishes essential role(s) of SF1 in pituitary gonadotropes.