CORDIS - EU research results

Deciphering Gene Regulatory Networks governing Mammalian Sex Determination

Project description

Investigating the genetic routes of sex determination

In many mammalian species sex is determined genetically by the expression of one or several genes carried by sex chromosomes. There is an antagonism between male and female pathways in fate reinforcement, yet the mechanism of interplay and downstream events remain elusive. The EU-funded EnhanceSex project has developed an in vitro and in vivo system for generating mouse gonadal progenitors from embryonic stem cells and will use it to study the gene regulatory networks governing mammalian sex determination. Apart from fundamental knowledge into development, project results will provide important insight into disorders of sex development and open new possibilities for novel interventions against infertility.


During mammalian sex determination, the bipotential embryonic gonad adopts either testicular or ovarian cell fates. This process highly relies on precise expression of several pro-male versus pro-female factors, most of which are transcription factors (TFs) and signalling pathway components. Yet, we still do not understand the interplay and hierarchy among these factors, their direct target genes, the regulatory elements they bind to, nor do we have an in vitro system to address these questions.
We recently explored the complex gene expression regulation of Sox9, a key pro-male factor, and identified several active testis-specific enhancers. Remarkably, deletion of one of these led to XY male-to-female sex reversal in mice. The presence of several functional enhancers highlights the complex gene expression regulation present during sex determination, which we aim to address here in a systematic manner. Furthermore, we recently developed a system to generate mouse and human gonadal progenitors from embryonic stem cells. Building on our exciting results, we seek to decipher the gene regulatory networks governing mammalian sex determination using in vivo and in vitro approaches. This proposal will pursue three complementary aims: (i) Identify target genes of the key factors controlling gonad formation; (ii) Map the regulatory elements bound by these factors; (iii) Develop an in vitro organoid system to model testis development. Using cutting edge techniques as CUT&RUN ChIP-Seq, ATAC-Seq, Promoter Capture Hi-C, CRISPR genome editing, organoid culture and 3D scaffolding development, we will address the complex gene expression regulation governing sex determination. Insights gained from this basic research will shed light on cell fate decisions in general, allow better diagnosis of many patients with Disorders of Sex Development, and offer an in vitro system to study gonad development and function with implications for understanding and treating infertility.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 651 868,00
52900 Ramat Gan

See on map

Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 651 868,00

Beneficiaries (1)