Steroidogenic factor 1 (SF1; Ad4BP/NR5A1) plays key roles in gonadal development. Initially, the Sf1 gene is expressed in mouse fetal gonads of both sexes, but later is up-regulated in testes and down-regulated in ovaries. While Sf1 expression is activated and maintained by Wilms tumor 1 (WT1) and LIM homeobox 9 (LHX9), the mechanism of sex-specific regulation remains unclear. We hypothesized that Sf1 is repressed by the transcription factor Forkhead box L2 (FOXL2) during ovarian development. In an in vitro system (TM3 cells), up-regulation of Sf1 by the WT1 splice variant WT1-KTS was antagonized by FOXL2, as determined by quantitative RT-PCR. Using reporter assays, we localized the Sf1 proximal promoter region involved in this antagonism to a 674-bp interval. A conserved FOXL2 binding site was identified in this interval by in vitro chromatin immunoprecipitation. Introducing mutations into this site abolished negative regulation by FOXL2 in reporter assays. Finally, in Foxl2-null mice, Sf1 expression was increased 2-fold relative to wild-type XX fetal gonads. Our results support the hypothesis that FOXL2 negatively regulates Sf1 expression by antagonizing WT1-KTS during early ovarian development in mice.
Keywords: LHX9; reproduction; sex determination.