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Sex Dev. 2014;8(4):166-77. doi: 10.1159/000357927. Epub 2014 Jan 29.

A dual role for SHH during phallus development in a marsupial.

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ARC Centre of Excellence in Kangaroo Genomics, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic., Australia.


The mammalian phallus arises from identical primordia in both sexes and is patterned in part by the key morphogen Sonic hedgehog (SHH). We have investigated SHH and other morphogens during phallus development in the tammar wallaby. In this marsupial, testis differentiation and androgen production occurs just after birth, but it takes a further 50-60 days before the phallus becomes sexually dimorphic. One day before birth, SHH was expressed in both sexes in the urethral epithelium. In males, there was a marked upregulation of SHH, GLI2, and AR at day 50 postpartum, a time when testicular androgen production falls. SHH, GLI2, and AR were downregulated in female pouch young treated with androstanediol from days 24-50, but not when treatments were begun at day 29, suggesting an early window of androgen sensitivity. SHH, GLI2, and AR expression in the phallus of males castrated at day 23 did not differ from controls, but there was an increase in SHH and GLI2 and a decrease in FGF8 and BMP4 expression when the animals were castrated at day 29. These results suggest that the early patterning by SHH is androgen-independent followed by an androgen-dependent window of sensitivity and a sharp rise in SHH expression after androgen withdrawal at day 50.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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