Molecular Mechanisms of Cell Differentiation in Gonad Development
The core of the decision to commit to either oogenesis or spermatogenesis lies in the timing of meiotic entry. Primordial germ cells within the fetal ovary become committed to the female pathway prior to birth and enter meiosis during embryonic development. In the fetal testis, however, the germ cells are protected from this signal before birth and instead receive this trigger postnatally. There is a growing body of evidence to indicate that RA is the meiosis-inducing factor in both sexes, with the gender-specific timing of meiotic entry controlled via degradation of this molecule only within the fetal testis. This chapter will review our current understanding of how RA controls germ cell fate in both the embryonic ovary and postnatal testis, highlighting the key studies that have led to the hypothesis that RA can drive the commitment to meiosis in both sexes and discussing the current debate over whether RA truly is the meiosis-inducing factor in the fetal ovary.