Retinoic Acid Prevents Germ Cell Mitotic Arrest in Mouse Fetal Testes

Cell Cycle. 2008 Mar 1;7(5):656-64. doi: 10.4161/cc.7.5.5482. Epub 2007 Dec 21.


During mouse fetal development, meiosis is initiated in female germ cells only, with male germ cells undergoing mitotic arrest. Retinoic acid (RA) is degraded by Cyp26b1 in the embryonic testis but not in the ovary where it initiates the mitosis/meiosis transition. However the role of RA status in fetal germ cell proliferation has not been elucidated. As expected, using organ cultures, we observed that addition of RA in 11.5 days post-conception (dpc) testes induced Stra8 expression and meiosis. Surprisingly, in 13.5 dpc testes although RA induced Stra8 expression it did not promote meiosis. On 11.5 and 13.5 dpc, RA prevented male germ cell mitotic arrest through PI3K signaling. Therefore 13.5 dpc testes appeared as an interesting model to investigate RA effects on germ cell proliferation/differentiation independently of RA effect on the meiosis induction. At this stage, RA delayed SSEA-1 extinction, p63gamma expression and DNA hypermethylation which normally occur in male mitotic arrested germ cells. In vivo, in the fetal male gonad, germ cells cease their proliferation and loose SSEA-1 earlier than in female gonad and RA administration maintained male germ cell proliferation. Lastly, inhibition of endogenous Cyp26 activity in 13.5 dpc cultured testes also prevented male germ cell mitotic arrest. Our data demonstrate that the reduction of RA levels, which occurs specifically in the male fetal gonad and was known to block meiosis initiation, is also necessary to allow the establishment of the germ cell mitotic arrest and the correct further differentiation of the fetal germ cells along the male pathway.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Embryo, Mammalian / cytology
  • Embryo, Mammalian / drug effects
  • Embryo, Mammalian / enzymology
  • Female
  • Fetus / cytology*
  • Fetus / drug effects
  • Fetus / enzymology
  • Male
  • Meiosis / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Mitosis / drug effects*
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Spermatozoa / cytology*
  • Spermatozoa / drug effects*
  • Spermatozoa / enzymology
  • Testis / cytology*
  • Testis / drug effects*
  • Testis / enzymology
  • Tretinoin / administration & dosage
  • Tretinoin / pharmacology*


  • Tretinoin
  • Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases