Elimination of the male reproductive tract in the female embryo is promoted by COUP-TFII in mice
The sexual differentiation paradigm contends that the female pattern of the reproductive system is established by default because the male reproductive tracts (Wolffian ducts) in the female degenerate owing to a lack of androgen. Here, we discovered that female mouse embryos lacking Coup-tfII (chicken ovalbumin upstream promoter transcription factor II) in the Wolffian duct mesenchyme became intersex—possessing both female and male reproductive tracts. Retention of Wolffian ducts was not caused by ectopic androgen production or action. Instead, enhanced phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase signaling in Wolffian duct epithelium was responsible for the retention of male structures in an androgen-independent manner. We thus suggest that elimination of Wolffian ducts in female embryos is actively promoted by COUP-TFII, which suppresses a mesenchyme-epithelium cross-talk responsible for Wolffian duct maintenance.