Sex determination of mammalian germ cells occurs during fetal development and depends on signals from gonadal somatic cells. Previous studies have established that retinoic acid (RA) triggers ovarian germ cells to enter meiosis and thereby commit to oogenesis, whereas in the developing testis, the enzyme CYP26B1 degrades RA and germ cells are not induced to enter meiosis. Using in vitro and in vivo models, we demonstrate that fibroblast growth factor 9 (FGF9) produced in the fetal testis acts directly on germ cells to inhibit meiosis; in addition, FGF9 maintains expression of pluripotency-related genes and upregulates markers associated with male germ cell fate. We conclude that two independent and mutually antagonistic pathways involving RA and FGF9 act in concert to determine mammalian germ cell sexual fate commitment and support a model in which the mitosis/meiosis switch is robustly controlled by both positive and negative regulatory factors.
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