FOXL2 antagonises the male developmental pathway in embryonic chicken gonads

Andrew T. Major, Katie L. Ayers, Justin Chue, Kelly N. Roeszler, Craig A. Smith

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29 Citations (Scopus)


FOXL2 is a conserved transcription factor with a central role in ovarian development and function. Studies in humans and mice indicate that the main role of FOXL2 is in the postnatal ovary, namely folliculogenesis. To shed light on the function and evolution of FOXL2 in the female gonad, we examined its role in embryonic avian gonads, using in ovo overexpression and knockdown. FOXL2 mRNA and protein are expressed female specifically in the embryonic chicken gonad, just prior to the onset of sexual differentiation. FOXL2 is expressed in the medullary cord cells, in the same cell type as aromatase (CYP19A1). In addition, later in development, expression also becomes localised in a subset of cortical cells, distinct from those expressing oestrogen receptor alpha. Misexpression of FOXL2 in the male chicken embryonic gonad suppresses the testis developmental pathway, abolishing local expression of the male pathway genes SOX9, DMRT1 and AMH and repressing Sertoli cell development. Conversely, knockdown of FOXL2 expression allows ectopic activation of SOX9 in female gonads. However, misexpression of FOXL2 alone was insufficient to activate aromatase expression in male gonads, while FOXL2 knockdown did not affect aromatase expression in females. These results indicate that FOXL2 plays an important role in embryonic differentiation of the avian ovary via antagonism of SOX9, but may be dispensable for aromatase activation at embryonic stages. The data suggest that FOXL2 has different roles in different species, more central for embryonic ovarian differentiation in egg-laying vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-228
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Endocrinology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Chicken
  • Embryonic gonad
  • FOXL2
  • Ovary
  • Sex determination
  • Sexual differentiation
  • Testis

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