Functional Analysis of Mmd2 and Related PAQR Genes During Sex Determination in Mice

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Sex Dev. 2022 Mar 18;1-13. doi: 10.1159/000522668. Online ahead of print.

Functional Analysis of Mmd2 and Related PAQR Genes During Sex Determination in Mice

Liang Zhao, Ella Thomson, Ee T Ng, Enya Longmuss, Terje Svingen, Stefan Bagheri-Fam, Alexander Quinn, Vincent R Harley, Leonard C Harrison, Emanuele Pelosi, Peter Koopman

Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Centre for Clinical Research, The University of Queensland, Royal Brisbane & Women's Hospital, Herston, Queensland, Australia. National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Kongens Lyngby, Denmark. Centre for Endocrinology and Metabolism, Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Monash Medical Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.

Service type: Knockout mice


Introduction: Sex determination in eutherian mammals is controlled by the Y-linked gene Sry, which drives the formation of testes in male embryos. Despite extensive study, the genetic steps linking Sry action and male sex determination remain largely unknown. Here, we focused on Mmd2, a gene that encodes a member of the progestin and adipoQ receptor (PAQR) family. Mmd2 is expressed during the sex-determining period in XY but not XX gonads, suggesting a specific role in testis development.

Methods: We used CRISPR to generate mouse strains deficient in Mmd2 and its 2 closely related PAQR family members, Mmd and Paqr8, which are also expressed during testis development. Following characterization of Mmd2 expression in the developing testis, we studied sex determination in embryos from single knockout as well as Mmd2;Mmd and Mmd2;Paqr8 double knockout lines using quantitative RT-PCR and immunofluorescence.

Results: Analysis of knockout mice deficient in Sox9 and Nr5a1 revealed that Mmd2 operates downstream of these known sex-determining genes. However, fetal testis development progressed normally in Mmd2-null embryos. To determine if other genes might have compensated for the loss of Mmd2, we analyzed Paqr8 and Mmd-null embryos and confirmed that in both knockout lines, sex determination occurred normally. Finally, we generated Mmd2;Mmd and Mmd2;Paqr8 double-null embryos and again observed normal testis development.

Discussion: These results may reflect functional redundancy among PAQR factors, or their dispensability in gonadal development. Our findings highlight the difficulties involved in identifying genes with a functional role in sex determination and gonadal development through expression screening and loss-of-function analyses of individual candidate genes and may help to explain the paucity of genes in which variations have been found to cause human disorders/differences of sex development.

Keywords: CRISPR; Mmd; Mmd2; Paqr8; Sex determination; Testis.

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