The Chromatin State during Gonadal Sex Determination.
At embryonic day (E) 10.5, prior to gonadal sex determination, XX and XY gonads are bipotential and able to differentiate into either a testis or an ovary. At this point, they are transcriptionally and morphologically indistinguishable. Sex determination begins around E11.5 in the mouse when the supporting cell lineage commits to either Sertoli or granulosa cell fate. Testis-specific factors such as SRY and SOX9 drive differentiation of bipotential-supporting cells into the Sertoli cell pathway, whereas ovary-specific factors like WNT4 and FOXL2 guide differentiation into granulosa cells. It is known that these 2 pathways are mutually antagonistic, and repression of the alternative fate is critical for maintenance of the testis or ovary programs. While we understand much about the transcription factor networks guiding the process of sex determination, it is only more recently that we have begun to understand how this process is epigenetically controlled. Studies in the past decade have demonstrated the importance of the chromatin state for gene expression and cell fate commitment, with histone modifications and DNA accessibility having a direct role in gene regulation. It is now clear that the chromatin state during sex determination is dynamic and likely critical for the establishment and/or maintenance of the transcriptional programs. Prior to sex determination, supporting cells have similar chromatin structure and histone modification profiles, reflecting the bipotential nature of these cells. After differentiation to Sertoli or granulosa cells, the chromatin state acquires sex-specific profiles. The proteins that regulate the deposition of histone modifications or the opening of compact chromatin likely play an important role in Sertoli and granulosa cell fate commitment and gonad development. Here, we describe studies profiling the chromatin state during gonadal sex determination and one example in which depletion of Cbx2, a member of the Polycomb Repressive Complex 1 (PRC1), causes male-to-female sex reversal due to a failure to repress the ovarian pathway.
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