The Loss of Hoxa5 Function Causes Estrous Acyclicity and Ovarian Epithelial Inclusion Cysts

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Hox genes encode transcription factors that play essential roles during embryo morphogenesis and organogenesis. Expression of several Hox members persists at the adult age, indicating a wide spectrum of action from embryonic to postnatal life. In the present study, we reported that in adult mice, the Hoxa5 gene shows a dynamic expression profile in the ovary that depends on the estrous cycle, the gestational status, and the age of the female, suggesting that Hoxa5 may have distinct physiological functions in the ovary. Consistent with a role for Hoxa5 in ovarian function, Hoxa5−/− nulliparous females exhibit precocious puberty and an early onset of estrous acyclicity. They show a prolonged estrous cycle with increased metestrus-diestrus length, a phenotype that worsens with age. Older mutant females also develop ovarian epithelial inclusion cysts reminiscent of human endosalpingiosis. Immunolabeling studies suggest that these cysts originate from the ovarian surface epithelium, a source of epithelial ovarian carcinomas. Staining of the Hoxa5−/− ovarian cysts by the ovarian cancer markers paired box gene 8 (PAX8) and Wilms' tumor 1 (WT1) further strengthens the notion that these cysts may constitute preneoplastic lesions. Moreover, the deregulation of the estrous cycle and the presence of ovarian epithelial cysts in Hoxa5−/− older females correlate with a reduced expression of specific epidermal growth factor receptor signaling components, namely Egfr, Areg, and Btc. Altogether, our data unveil that Hoxa5, a stroma-specific gene, plays a significant role in ovarian biology and may be involved in ovarian cancer predisposition.

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