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Fine time course expression analysis identifies cascades of activation and repression and maps a putative regulator of mammalian sex determination
9 7 e1003630
In vertebrates, primary sex determination refers to the decision within a bipotential organ precursor to differentiate as a testis or ovary. Bifurcation of organ fate begins between embryonic day (E) 11.0-E12.0 in mice and likely involves a dynamic transcription network that is poorly understood. To elucidate the first steps of sexual fate specification, we profiled the XX and XY gonad transcriptomes at fine granularity during this period and resolved cascades of gene activation and repression. C57BL/6J (B6) XY gonads showed a consistent ~5-hour delay in the activation of most male pathway genes and repression of female pathway genes relative to 129S1/SvImJ, which likely explains the sensitivity of the B6 strain to male-to-female sex reversal. Using this fine time course data, we predicted novel regulatory genes underlying expression QTLs (eQTLs) mapped in a previous study. To test predictions, we developed an in vitro gonad primary cell assay and optimized a lentivirus-based shRNA delivery method to silence candidate genes and quantify effects on putative targets. We provide strong evidence that Lmo4 (Lim-domain only 4) is a novel regulator of sex determination upstream of SF1 (Nr5a1), Sox9, Fgf9, and Col9a3. This approach can be readily applied to identify regulatory interactions in other systems.