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Specific morphogenetic events in mouse external genitalia sex differentiation are responsive/dependent upon androgens and/or estrogens.


The objective of this study was to perform a comprehensive morphologic analysis of developing mouse external genitalia (ExG) and to determine specific sexual differentiation features that are responsive to androgens or estrogens. To eliminate sex steroid signaling postnatally, male and female mice were gonadectomized on the day of birth, and then injected intraperitoneally every other day with DES (200 ng/g), DHT (1 μg/g), or oil. On day-10 postnatal male and female ExG were dissected, fixed, embedded, serially sectioned and analyzed. We identified 10 sexually dimorphic anatomical features indicative of normal penile and clitoral differentiation in intact mice. Several (but not all) penile features were impaired or abolished as a result of neonatal castration. Those penile features remaining after neonatal castration were completely abolished with attendant clitoral development in androgen receptor (AR) mutant male mice (X(Tfm)/Y and X/Y AR-null) in which AR signaling is absent both pre- and postnatally. Administration of DHT to neonatally castrated males restored development of all 10 masculine features to almost normal levels. Neonatal ovariectomy of female mice had little effect on clitoral development, whereas treatment of ovariectomized female mice with DHT induced partial masculinization of the clitoris. Administration of DES to neonatally gonadectomized male and female mice elicited a spectrum of development abnormalities. These studies demonstrate that the presence or absence of androgen prenatally specifies penile versus clitoral identity. Differentiated penile features emerge postnatally and are sensitive to and dependent upon prenatal or pre- and postnatal androgen. Emergence of differentiated clitoral features occurs postnatally in either intact or ovariectomized females. It is likely that each penile and clitoral feature has a unique time-course of hormonal dependency/sensitivity.

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