Targets of steroidogenic factor 1 (SF1; also known as NR5A1 and AD4BP) have been identified within cells at every level of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal and -adrenal axes, revealing SF1 to be a master regulator of major endocrine systems. Mouse embryos express SF1 in the genital ridge until Embryonic Day 13.5 (E13.5). Thereafter, expression persists in the male and is substantially lower in the female gonad until birth. We hypothesize that the sexually dimorphic expression of Sf1 during gonadogenesis is mediated by sex-specific regulation of its promoter. To investigate dimorphic regulation within the fetal gonad, we developed an experimental strategy using transient transfection of E13.5 gonad explant cultures and evaluated various Sf1 promoter constructs for sexually dimorphic DNA elements. The proximal Sf1 promoter correctly targeted reporter activity to SF1-expressing cells in both XY and XX gonads. Stepwise deletion of sequences from the Sf1 promoter revealed two regions that affected regulation within female gonads. Mutation of both sequences together did not cause further disruption of reporter activity, suggesting the two sites might work in concert to promote activity in female somatic cells. Results from gel mobility shift assays and fetal gonad-chromatin immunoprecipitation showed that TCFAP2 binds to one of the two female-specific sites within the proximal promoter of Sf1. Together, we show that transient transfection experiments performed within developing testes and ovaries are a powerful tool to uncover elements within the Sf1 promoter that contribute to sex-specific expression.
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Vol. 84 • No. 3