The X-linked Sox3 gene encodes a member of the Sry high-mobility group box proteins, which play a role in many developmental processes including neurogenesis and testis development. This study further examined the role of Sox3 in spermatogenesis. Males without Sox3 expression exhibited a similar number of germ cell nuclear antigen-positive germ cells at 1, 5, and 10 d postpartum (dpp) compared to their wild-type littermates, but there was significant germ cell depletion by 20 dpp. However, spermatogenesis later resumed and postmeiotic germ cells were observed by 56 dpp. The VasaCre transgene was used to generate a germ cell-specific deletion of Sox3. The phenotype of the germ cell-specific Sox3 knockout was similar to the ubiquitous knockout, indicating an intrinsic role for Sox3 in germ cells. The residual germ cells in 20 dpp Sox3-/Y males were spermatogonia as indicated by their expression of neurogenin3 but not synaptonemal complex protein 3, which is expressed within cells undergoing meiosis. RNA expression analyses corroborated the histological analyses and revealed a gradual transition from relatively increased expression of spermatogonia genes at 20 dpp to near normal expression of genes characteristic of undifferentiated and meiotic germ cells by 84 dpp. Fluorescent-activated cell sorting of undifferentiated (ret tyrosine kinase receptor positive) and differentiated (kit receptor tyrosine kinase-positive) spermatogonia revealed depletion of differentiated spermatogonia in Sox3 -/Y tubules. These results indicate that Sox3 functions in an intrinsic manner to promote differentiation of spermatogonia in prepubertal mice but it is not required for ongoing spermatogenesis in adults. The Sox3 -/Y males provide a unique model for studying the mechanism of germ cell differentiation in prepubertal testes.
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