Vitamin A (retinol) is required for male and female reproduction as well as to support many developmental processes. In the male, meiotic entry of germ cells occurs after birth and throughout adulthood, whereas in the female, the entry into meiosis I occurs during embryonic development. Evidence from cultured embryonic ovaries suggests that the vitamin A metabolite, all-trans retinoic acid (atRA), initiates this process. However, in vivo evidence to support a normal role for atRA in meiotic entry is lacking. The present study demonstates that although germ cell number is normal in ovaries from both vitamin A-sufficient (VAS) embryos and those that are deficient in atRA, the majority of germ cells in the most severely atRA-deficient group fail to enter meiosis and remain in an undifferentiated state. In contrast, in a group that is only moderately deficient in atRA, a small number of ovarian germ cells enter meiosis (30%) compared with 75% of cells in the VAS control group. The expression of the atRA-responsive gene, Stra8, is reduced by approximately 90% and 50% in the severely and moderately atRA-deficient ovaries, respectively, compared with the VAS controls. These results provide the first in vivo evidence that vitamin A regulates the entry of germ cells into meiosis in the developing ovary.
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Vol. 81 • No. 5