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Biol Reprod. 2010 Nov;83(5):783-90. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod.110.085811. Epub 2010 Jul 21.

Retinoic acid availability drives the asynchronous initiation of spermatogonial differentiation in the mouse.

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School of Molecular Biosciences, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99164, USA.


Throughout the reproductive lifespan of most male mammals, sperm production is constant because of the regulated differentiation of spermatogonia. Retinoic acid (RA) and a downstream target, Stra8, are required for complete spermatogenesis. To examine the role of RA in initiating spermatogonial differentiation, a transgenic mouse model expressing beta-galactosidase under the control of an RA response element was used. Cells in the neonatal testis undergoing active RA signaling were visualized by beta-galactosidase activity, the relationship between RA and differentiation determined, and the role of RA-degrading enzymes in regulating RA demonstrated. Beta-galactosidase activity was found to be predominantly associated with differentiating, premeiotic germ cells and to be distributed nonuniformly throughout the seminiferous tubules. Additionally, beta-galactosidase activity in premeiotic germ cells colocalized with STRA8 protein and was induced in germ cells with exogenous RA treatment. The RA-degrading enzyme, CYP26B1, was found to have germ cell localization and nonuniform distribution between tubules via immunohistochemistry. Treatment with a CYP26 enzyme inhibitor resulted in an increased number of germ cells with both beta-galactosidase activity and STRA8 protein and an increase in the expression of genes associated with differentiation and reduced expression of a gene associated with undifferentiated germ cells. These results show the action of RA in a subset of spermatogonia leads to nonuniform initiation of differentiation throughout the neonatal testis, potentially mediated through the action of CYP26 enzymes. Thus, the presence of RA is a likely driving factor in the initiation of spermatogonial differentiation and may result in asynchronous spermatogenesis.

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