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BMC Mol Biol. 2008 Apr 29;9:44. doi: 10.1186/1471-2199-9-44.

A GATA4/WT1 cooperation regulates transcription of genes required for mammalian sex determination and differentiation.

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Ontogeny-Reproduction Research Unit, Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Quebec (CRCHUQ), Quebec City, QC, G1V 4G2, Canada.



In mammals, sex determination is genetically controlled. The SRY gene, located on Y chromosome, functions as the dominant genetic switch for testis development. The SRY gene is specifically expressed in a subpopulation of somatic cells (pre-Sertoli cells) of the developing urogenital ridge for a brief period during gonadal differentiation. Despite this tight spatiotemporal expression pattern, the molecular mechanisms that regulate SRY transcription remain poorly understood. Sry expression has been shown to be markedly reduced in transgenic mice harboring a mutant GATA4 protein (a member of the GATA family of transcription factors) disrupted in its ability to interact with its transcriptional partner FOG2, suggesting that GATA4 is involved in SRY gene transcription.


Although our results show that GATA4 directly targets the pig SRY promoter, we did not observe similar action on the mouse and human SRY promoters. In the mouse, Wilms' tumor 1 (WT1) is an important regulator of both Sry and Müllerian inhibiting substance (Amh/Mis) expression and in humans, WT1 mutations are associated with abnormalities of sex differentiation. GATA4 transcriptionally cooperated with WT1 on the mouse, pig, and human SRY promoters. Maximal GATA4/WT1 synergism was dependent on WT1 but not GATA4 binding to their consensus regulatory elements in the SRY promoter and required both the zinc finger and C-terminal regions of the GATA4 protein. Although both isoforms of WT1 synergized with GATA4, synergism was stronger with the +KTS rather than the -KTS isoform. WT1/GATA4 synergism was also observed on the AMH promoter. In contrast to SRY, WT1/GATA4 action on the mouse Amh promoter was specific for the -KTS isoform and required both WT1 and GATA4 binding.


Our data therefore provide new insights into the molecular mechanisms that contribute to the tissue-specific expression of the SRY and AMH genes in both normal development and certain syndromes of abnormal sex differentiation.

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