10.1016/j.ydbio.2011.10.001

Formation of the genital ridges is preceded by a domain of ectopic Sox9-expressing cells in Lepidochelys olivacea

Abstract

AbstractBipotential gonads represent the structural framework from which alternative molecular sex determination networks have evolved. Maintenance of Sox9 expression in Sertoli cells is required for the structural and functional integrity of male gonads in mammals and probably in most amniote vertebrates. However, spatial and temporal patterns of Sox9 expression have diversified along evolution. Species with temperature sex determination are an interesting predictive model since one of two alternative developmental outcomes, either ovary or testis occurs under controlled laboratory conditions. In the sea turtle Lepidochelys olivacea, Sox9 is expressed in the medullary cords of bipotential gonads when incubated at both female- or male-promoting temperature (FT or MT). Sox9 is then turned off in presumptive ovaries, while it remains turned on in testes. In the current study, Sox9 was used as a marker of the medullary cell lineage to investigate if the medullary cords originate from mesothelial cells at the genital ridges where Sox9 is upregulated, or, if they derive from a cell population specified at an earlier developmental stage, which maintains Sox9 expression. Using immunofluorescence and in situ hybridization, embryos were analyzed prior to, during and after gonadal sex determination. A T-shaped domain (T-Dom) formed by cytokeratin (CK), N-cadherin (Ncad) and SOX9-expressing cells was found at the upper part of the hindgut dorsal mesentery. The arms of the T-Dom were extended to both sides towards the ventromedial mesonephric ridge before the thickening of the genital ridges, indicating that they contained gonadal epithelial cell precursors. Thereafter, expression of Sox9 was maintained in medullary cords while it was downregulated at the surface epithelium of bipotential gonads in both FT and MT. This result contrasts with observations in mammals and birds, in which Sox9 upregulation starts at a later stage in the inner cells underlying the Sox9-negative surface epithelium, suggesting that the establishment of a self-regulatory Sox9 loop required for Sertoli cell determination has evolved. The T-shaped domain at the upper part of the hindgut dorsal mesentery found in the current study may represent the earliest precursor of the genital ridges, previously unnoticed in amniote vertebrates

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