Two distinct origins for Leydig cell progenitors in the fetal testis.
During the differentiation of the mammalian embryonic testis, two compartments are defined: the testis cords and the interstitium. The testis cords give rise to the adult seminiferous tubules, whereas steroidogenic Leydig cells and other less well characterized cell types differentiate in the interstitium (the space between testis cords). Although the process of testis cord formation is essential for male development, it is not entirely understood. It has been viewed as a Sertoli-cell driven process, but growing evidence suggests that interstitial cells play an essential role during testis formation. However, little is known about the origin of the interstitium or the molecular and cellular diversity within this early stromal compartment. To better understand the process of mammalian gonad differentiation, we have undertaken an analysis of developing interstitial/stromal cells in the early mouse testis and ovary. We have discovered molecular heterogeneity in the interstitium and have characterized new markers of distinct cell types in the gonad: MAFB, C-MAF, and VCAM1. Our results show that at least two distinct progenitor lineages give rise to the interstitial/stromal compartment of the gonad: the coelomic epithelium and specialized cells along the gonad-mesonephros border. We demonstrate that both these populations give rise to interstitial precursors that can differentiate into fetal Leydig cells. Our analysis also reveals that perivascular cells migrate into the gonad from the mesonephric border along with endothelial cells and that these vessel-associated cells likely represent an interstitial precursor lineage. This study highlights the cellular diversity of the interstitial cell population and suggests that complex cell-cell interactions among cells in the interstitium are involved in testis morphogenesis.
DeFalco, T; Takahashi, S; Capel, B
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