Dmrt1 belongs to the DM domain gene family of conserved sexual regulators. In the mouse Dmrt1 is expressed in the genital ridge (the gonadal primordium) in both sexes and then becomes testis-specific shortly after sex determination. The essential role of DMRT1 in testicular differentiation is well established, and includes transcriptional repression of the meiotic inducer Stra8. However Dmrt1 mutant females are fertile and the role of Dmrt1 in the ovary has not been studied. Here we show in the mouse that most Dmrt1 mutant germ cells in the fetal ovary have greatly reduced expression of STRA8, and fail to properly localize SYCP3 and γH2AX during meiotic prophase. Lack of DMRT1 in the fetal ovary results in the formation of many fewer primordial follicles in the juvenile ovary, although these are sufficient for fertility. Genome-wide chromatin immunoprecipitiation (ChIP-chip) and quantitative ChIP (qChIP) combined with mRNA expression profiling suggests that transcriptional activation of Stra8 in fetal germ cells is the main function of DMRT1 in females, and that this regulation likely is direct. Thus DMRT1 controls Stra8 sex-specifically, activating it in the fetal ovary and repressing it in the adult testis.
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