Background: Sertoli cells are essential regulators of testicular fate in the differentiating gonad; however, its role and underlying molecular mechanism of regulating testicular development in prepubertal testes are poorly understood. Although several critical regulatory factors of Sertoli cell development and function have been identified, identifying extrinsic factors that regulate gonocyte proliferation and migration processes during neonatal testis development remains largely unknown. Methods: We used the Sertoli cell-specific conditional knockout strategy (Cre/Loxp) in mice and molecular biological analyses (Luciferase assay, ChIP-qPCR, RNA-Seq, etc.) in vitro and in vivo to study the physiological roles of hnRNPU in Sertoli cells on regulating testicular development in prepubertal testes. Results: We identified a co-transcription factor, hnRNPU, which is highly expressed in mouse and human Sertoli cells and required for neonatal Sertoli cell and pre-pubertal testicular development. Conditional knockout of hnRNPU in murine Sertoli cells leads to severe testicular atrophy and male sterility, characterized by rapid depletion of both Sertoli cells and germ cells and failure of spermatogonia proliferation and migration during pre-pubertal testicular development. At molecular levels, we found that hnRNPU interacts with two Sertoli cell markers WT1 and SOX9, and enhances the expression of two transcriptional factors, Sox8 and Sox9, in Sertoli cells by directly binding to their promoter regions. Further RNA-Seq and bioinformatics analyses revealed the transcriptome-wide of key genes essential for Sertoli cell and germ cell fate control, such as biological adhesion, proliferation and migration, were deregulated in Sertoli cell-specific hnRNPU mutant testes. Conclusion: Our findings demonstrate an essential role of hnRNPU in Sertoli cells for prepubertal testicular development and testis microenvironment maintenance and define a new insight for our understanding of male infertility therapy.
Keywords: Mice; Sertoli cells; Testicular development; Transcription factor; hnRNPU.
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