The purpose of this study was to validate a combined in situ hybridization (ISH)/immunohistochemistry (IHC) staining method for visualizing and quantifying mouse prostatic buds. To refine animal usage in prostate development studies, we also determined whether a comparable number of prostatic buds were formed in male and female mouse urogenital sinus (UGS) explants grown in vitro in the presence of androgen. We used IHC to label UGS epithelium and ISH to label prostatic buds with one of three different prostatic bud marking riboprobes: a previously identified prostatic bud marker, NK-3 transcription factor, locus 1 (Nkx3-1), and two newly identified prostatic bud markers, wingless-related MMTV integration site 10b (Wnt10b) and ectodysplasin-A receptor (Edar). We calculated total buds formed per UGS and the proportion marked by each mRNA after male UGS development in vivo and male and female UGS development in vitro. Nkx3-1 was first to mark the prostate field during UGS development in vivo but all three mRNAs marked prostatic buds during later developmental stages. The mRNAs localized to different domains: Nkx3-1 was present along about half the prostatic bud length while Edar and Wnt10b were restricted to distal bud tips. None of the mRNAs marked all buds formed in vitro and the proportion marked was developmental stage- and gender-dependent. Nkx3-1 marked the highest proportion of prostatic buds during in vitro UGS development. Together, our results reveal that ISH staining of mouse UGS can be used to quantify prostatic bud number, Nkx3-1 is currently the best suited riboprobe for this method, and female UGSs cannot be used interchangeably with male UGSs when conducting prostate development studies in vitro. We also found that Nkx3-1, Edar, and Wnt10b mark different prostatic bud regions and are likely to be useful in future studies of regional differences in prostatic bud gene expression.
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