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Caenorhabditis elegans male copulation requires coordinated temporal-spatial execution of different motor outputs. During mating, a cloacal circuit consisting of cholinergic sensory-motor neurons and sex muscles maintains the male's position and executes copulatory spicule thrusts at his mate's vulva. However, distinct signaling mechanisms that delimit these behaviors to their proper context are unclear. We found that dopamine (DA) signaling directs copulatory spicule insertion attempts to the hermaphrodite vulva by dampening spurious stimulus-independent sex muscle contractions. From pharmacology and genetic analyses, DA antagonizes stimulatory ACh signaling via the D2-like receptors, DOP-2 and DOP-3, and Gα(o/i) proteins, GOA-1 and GPA-7. Calcium imaging and optogenetics suggest that heightened DA-expressing ray neuron activities coincide with the cholinergic cloacal ganglia function during spicule insertion attempts. D2-like receptor signaling also attenuates the excitability of additional mating circuits to reduce the duration of mating attempts with unproductive and/or inappropriate partners. This suggests that, during wild-type mating, simultaneous DA-ACh signaling modulates the activity threshold of repetitive motor programs, thus confining the behavior to the proper situational context.
CONTEXT - P450 oxidoreductase (POR) deficiency causes disordered steroidogenesis; severe mutations cause genital ambiguity in both sexes plus the Antley-Bixler skeletal malformation syndrome, whereas mild mutations can cause adult infertility.
OBJECTIVE - We describe four patients with POR deficiency and identify and characterize the activities of their mutations. A 46,XY male with micropenis and two 46,XX female infants with genital ambiguity presented with skeletal malformations, and a 46,XX adolescent presented with primary amenorrhea, elevated 17alpha-hydroxyprogesterone, and low sex steroids.
METHODS - The coding regions of the POR gene were sequenced, and the identified mutations were recreated in human POR cDNA expression vectors lacking 27 N-terminal residues. POR and human P450c17 were expressed in bacteria. POR activity was measured by four assays: reduction of cytochrome c, oxidation of reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate, and support of the 17alpha-hydroxylase and 17,20 lyase activities of P450c17.
RESULTS - All four patients were compound heterozygotes for POR mutations, including five novel mutations: L577R, N185K, delE217, and frameshift mutations 1363delC and 697-698insGAAC. N185K and delE217 lacked measurable activity in the assays based on P450c17 but retained partial activity in the assays based on cytochrome c. As assessed by V(max)/Km, L577R supported 46% of 17alpha-hydroxylase activity but only 27% of 17,20 lyase activity. Computational modeling of these novel mutants revealed the structural basis for their reduced or absent activities.
CONCLUSION - These patients illustrate the broad clinical spectrum of POR deficiency, including amenorrhea and infertility as the sole manifestation. POR assays based on P450c17 correlate well with hormonal and clinical phenotypes.
Proper cell fate determination in mammalian gonads is critical for the establishment of sexual identity. The Hedgehog (Hh) pathway has been implicated in cell fate decision for various organs, including gonads. Desert Hedgehog (Dhh), one of the three mammalian Hh genes, has been implicated with other genes in the establishment of mouse fetal Leydig cells. To investigate whether Hh alone is sufficient to induce fetal Leydig cell differentiation, we ectopically activated the Hh pathway in Steroidogenic factor 1 (SF1)-positive somatic cell precursors of fetal ovaries. Hh activation transformed SF1-positive somatic ovarian cells into functional fetal Leydig cells. These ectopic fetal Leydig cells produced androgens and insulin-like growth factor 3 (INLS3) that cause virilization of female embryos and ovarian descent. However, the female reproductive system remained intact, indicating a typical example of female pseudohermaphroditism. The appearance of fetal Leydig cells was a direct consequence of Hh activation as evident by the absence of other testicular components in the affected ovary. This study provides not only insights into mechanisms of cell lineage specification in gonads, but also a model to understand defects in sexual differentiation.
In most animals, female meiotic spindles assemble in the absence of centrosomes; instead, microtubule nucleation by chromatin, motor activity, and microtubule dynamics drive the self-organization of a bipolar meiotic spindle. Meiotic spindle assembly commences when microtubules gain access to chromatin after nuclear envelope breakdown (NEBD) during meiotic maturation. Although many studies have addressed the chromatin-based mechanism of female meiotic spindle assembly, it is less clear how signaling influences microtubule localization and dynamics prior to NEBD. Here we analyze microtubule behavior in Caenorhabditis elegans oocytes at early stages of the meiotic maturation process using confocal microscopy and live-cell imaging. In C. elegans, sperm trigger oocyte meiotic maturation and ovulation using the major sperm protein (MSP) as an extracellular signaling molecule. We show that MSP signaling reorganizes oocyte microtubules prior to NEBD and fertilization by affecting their localization and dynamics. We present evidence that MSP signaling reorganizes oocyte microtubules through a signaling network involving antagonistic G alpha(o/i) and G alpha(s) pathways and gap-junctional communication with somatic cells of the gonad. We propose that MSP-dependent microtubule reorganization promotes meiotic spindle assembly by facilitating the search and capture of microtubules by meiotic chromatin following NEBD.
Steroidogenic factor 1 (SF-1) is an orphan nuclear receptor that plays key roles in endocrine development and function. Knockout mice lacking SF-1 have adrenal and gonadal agenesis, impaired gonadotropin expression, and structural abnormalities of the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus. Previous studies have identified three human subjects with mutations in SF-1 causing adrenocortical insufficiency with varying degrees of gonadal dysfunction. We now describe a novel 8-bp microdeletion of SF-1, isolated from a 46, XY patient who presented with gonadal agenesis but normal adrenal function, which causes premature termination upstream of sequences encoding the activation function 2 domain. In cell transfection experiments, the mutated protein possessed no intrinsic transcriptional activity but rather inhibited the function of the wild-type protein in most cell types. To our knowledge, this is the first example of an apparent dominant-negative effect of a SF-1 mutation in humans. These findings, which define a SF-1 mutation that apparently differentially affects its transcriptional activity in vivo in the adrenal cortex and the gonads, may be relevant to the cohort of patients who present with 46, XY sex reversal but normal adrenal function.
Caenorhabditis elegans oocytes, like those of most animals, arrest during meiotic prophase. Sperm promote the resumption of meiosis (maturation) and contraction of smooth muscle-like gonadal sheath cells, which are required for ovulation. We show that the major sperm cytoskeletal protein (MSP) is a bipartite signal for oocyte maturation and sheath contraction. MSP also functions in sperm locomotion, playing a role analogous to actin. Thus, during evolution, MSP has acquired extracellular signaling and intracellular cytoskeletal functions for reproduction. Proteins with MSP-like domains are found in plants, fungi, and other animals, suggesting that related signaling functions may exist in other phyla.
Molecular basis of lipoid adrenal hyperplasia (lipoid CAH) in a Japanese patient was investigated. A 46XY Japanese female patient was clinically diagnosed as having lipoid CAH based on her clinical history of adrenal crisis at birth and the low basal concentrations of cortisol, aldosterone, adrenal androgens and testosterone in serum. In vitro studies of testicular mitochondrial enzymes confirmed a specific impairment of cholesterol side chain cleavage (SCC) activity. However, in spite of the virtual reduction of SCC activity, the amounts of immunodetectable P450scc, adrenodoxin reductase, and adrenodoxin in testicular mitochondria were almost same as those of normal testis. Furthermore, the size of each protein was similar to that of normal testis. Enzymatic amplification of the complementary DNA encoding P450scc from the patient's testis RNA and its nucleotide analysis by direct sequencing revealed no mutation. These results indicate that defective P450scc is not the lesion in this patient, confirming a previous report showing no P450scc mutations in patients with lipoid CAH. The exact lesion causing lipoid CAH in this patient is currently unknown.
The sporadic concurrence of male pseudohermaphroditism and chronic glomerulopathy is associated with an extremely high risk of Wilms tumor. We report our experience with an infant who developed this triad (Drash syndrome) and review the 21 patients described in the literature, to emphasize the importance of early diagnosis and to suggest guidelines for management. The dysgenetic gonads are always intra-abdominal and carry a 20% to 30% risk for malignancy. The external genitalia are frequently ambiguous (77%); some children are phenotypically normal females. The glomerulopathy typically leads to end-stage renal failure in infancy; the subsequent death rate has, to date, been 68%. The clinical presentation of renal disease is variable and includes congenital nephrotic syndrome (14%) and infantile nephrotic syndrome (41%); 27% of patients develop proteinuria and renal insufficiency between the ages of 1 and 3 years. The high risk of Wilms tumor (55% in this review) mandates regular tumor surveillance, and prophylactic bilateral nephrectomy and gonadectomy once irreversible renal failure develops.
17 alpha-Hydroxylase deficiency is characterized by defects in either or both the 17 alpha-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase activities. We have, for the first time, elucidated the molecular basis of the deficiency in a male pseudohermaphrodite with ambiguous external genitalia resulting from partial combined deficiency of both activities. The patient is found to be a compound heterozygote, carrying two different inherited mutant alleles in the cytochrome P45017 alpha (CYP17) gene. One allele, from his mother, contains a stop codon (TGA) in place of arginine (CGA) at amino acid position 239 in exon 4. Because this occurs at the N-terminal side of the heme binding sequence, the putative resultant truncated protein is nonfunctional. The second allele, from his father, contains a missense mutation encoding the substitution of proline (CCA) by threonine (ACA) at position 342 in exon 6. Reconstruction of this mutation by site-directed mutagenesis into human P45017 alpha cDNA followed by expression in COS 1 cells leads to the same amount of immunodetectable P45017 alpha protein as found with expression of the normal P45017 alpha cDNA, although both the 17 alpha-hydroxylase and 17,20-lyase activities are found to be reduced to 40-45% of those of the normal enzyme. The presence of ambiguous external genitalia in this 46 XY individual indicates that greater than 20% of the total normal 17,20-lyase activity is required for complete virilization in the male.
The molecular defect in a reported case of isolated 17,20-lyase deficiency in a 46XY individual has been elucidated. The patient was found to be a compound heterozygote, carrying two different mutant alleles in the CYP17 gene. One allele contains a point mutation of arginine (CGC) to cysteine (TGC) at amino acid 496 in exon 8. The second allele contains a stop codon (TAG) in place of glutamine (CAG) at position 461 in exon 8 which is located 19 amino acids to the carboxy-terminal side of the P-450(17) alpha heme binding cysteine. COS-1 cells transfected with cDNAs containing one or the other of these mutations showed dramatically reduced 17 alpha-hydroxylase and 17,20-lyase activities relative to cells transfected with the wild type P-450(17) alpha cDNA. While the in vitro data in COS 1 cells can explain the patient's physical phenotype, with female external genitalia, it was somewhat discordant with the clinical expression of isolated 17,20-lyase deficiency with relative preservation of 17 alpha-hydroxylase activity in vivo. In addition to the expression studies of these two examples of mutants in the C-terminal region of cytochrome P-450(17) alpha, a third mutant cDNA construct containing a 4-base duplication at codon 480 previously found in patients with combined 17 alpha-hydroxylase/17,20-lyase deficiency was also expressed in COS-1 cells. This expressed protein was completely inactive with respect to both activities, supporting the biochemical findings in serum and in vitro biochemical data obtained using a testis from the patient. The results from these patients clearly indicate the importance of the C-terminal region of human P-450(17) alpha in its enzymatic activities.