In the mouse embryo, at approximately 11.5 days postcoitum (dpc), cells migrate from the mesonephros into the developing testis to contribute to the somatic population of the interstitial compartment (i.e., peritubular myoid cells, Leydig cells, and endothelial cells). Studies from this laboratory have shown that the interstitial population of mesenchymal cells in fetal and newborn mouse testis express the p75 neurotrophin receptor (p75NTR, formerly known as the low-affinity nerve growth factor receptor); part of the cell population progressively congregates around testis cords, later to be replaced by contractile peritubular myoid cells, which express smooth muscle cell markers. In the present study, we show that the migrating cells and the p75NTR-expressing cells are the same population. We also show that the neurotrophin receptor is a useful endogenous marker to follow cell migration within the urogenital ridge and to identify and isolate mesenchymal precursors of myoid cells. A time-course immunolocalization study of the location of p75NTR-bearing cells within the urogenital ridge of mouse embryos between 10.5 and 12.5 dpc showed that the interstitium of the fetal testis was progressively occupied by p75NTR( ) cells. The progressive increase of p75NTR expression within the developing testis was confirmed by immunoblot analysis of proteins isolated from the fetal gonads. Organ cultures of isolated testes or testis-mesonephros grafts confirmed that p75NTR( ) cells do not appear in the testis unless a mesonephros is attached to it. Cells bearing the p75NTR receptor, purified from 12.5-dpc male mouse mesonephroi by immunomagnetic sorting, were able to differentiate in vitro into myoid cells. Immunofluorescence analysis of postnatal testis sections confirmed the presence around the tubules of cells coexpressing p75NTR and α-smooth muscle actin. The ability to identify and purify precursors of myoid cells may be of considerable help for studying the mechanisms regulating their differentiation.
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