The first sign of mammalian germ cell sexual differentiation is the initiation of meiosis in females and of mitotic arrest in males. In the mouse, retinoic acid induces ovarian Stra8 expression and entry of germ cells into meiosis. In developing mouse testes, cytochrome P450 family 26, subfamily b, polypeptide 1 (CYP26B1) produced by the Sertoli cells degrades retinoic acid, preventing Stimulated by Retinoic Acid Gene 8 (Stra8), expression and inhibiting meiosis. However, in developing humans, there is no evidence that CYP26B1 acts a meiosis-inhibiting factor. We therefore examined aspects of the retinoic acid/STRA8/CYP26B1 pathway during gonadal development in the tammar wallaby, a marsupial, to understand whether retinoic acid stimulation of STRA8 and CYP26B1 degradation of retinoic acid was conserved between widely divergent mammals. In tammar ovaries, as in human ovaries and unlike the pattern in mice, CYP26B1 expression was not downregulated before the onset of meiosis. Exposure of pre-meiotic tammar ovaries to exogenous retinoic acid in vitro upregulated STRA8 expression compared to controls. We conclude that retinoic acid and STRA8 are conserved factors that control the initiation of meiosis amongst mammals but the role of CYP26B1 as a meiosis-inhibiting factor may be specific to rodents. The identity of the marsupial meiosis-inhibiting factor remains unknown.
This comparative study using a marsupial species suggests that the roles of retinoic acid and STRA8 but not CYP26B1 in controlling the initiation of meiosis are conserved between different mammals.