Expression profiling of purified mouse gonadal somatic cells during the critical time window of sex determination reveals novel candidate genes for human sexual dysgenesis syndromes.
Despite the identification of SRY as the testis-determining gene in mammals, the genetic interactions controlling the earliest steps of male sex determination remain poorly understood. In particular, the molecular lesions underlying a high proportion of human XY gonadal dysgenesis, XX maleness and XX true hermaphroditism remain undiscovered. A number of screens have identified candidate genes whose expression is modulated during testis or ovary differentiation in mice, but these screens have used whole gonads, consisting of multiple cell types, or stages of gonadal development well beyond the time of sex determination. We describe here a novel reporter mouse line that expresses enhanced green fluorescent protein under the control of an Sf1 promoter fragment, marking Sertoli and granulosa cell precursors during the critical period of sex determination. These cells were purified from gonads of male and female transgenic embryos at 10.5 dpc (shortly after Sry transcription is activated) and 11.5 dpc (when Sox9 transcription begins), and their transcriptomes analysed using Affymetrix genome arrays. We identified 266 genes, including Dhh, Fgf9 and Ptgds, that were upregulated and 50 genes that were downregulated in 11.5 dpc male somatic gonad cells only, and 242 genes, including Fst, that were upregulated in 11.5 dpc female somatic gonad cells only. The majority of these genes are novel genes that lack identifiable homology, and several human orthologues were found to map to chromosomal loci implicated in disorders of sexual development. These genes represent an important resource with which to piece together the earliest steps of sex determination and gonad development, and provide new candidates for mutation searching in human sexual dysgenesis syndromes.