Genital malformation including hypospadias represents the second most common male birth defect after cardiac defect. In the past 40 years, hypospadias incidence has doubled along with other male reproductive problems. It is suspected that fetal exposure to endocrine disruptors may have contributed to this increase. However, our understandings of the etiology of hypospadias or genital development in general are still very limited. Our preliminary studies convincingly demonstrated that the importance of two signaling pathways, Shh and Wnt in both early androgen-independent and late sexually dimorphic phases of external genitalia development. When the canonical Wnt pathway is perturbed in the urethral epithelium during early genital tubercle (GT) development, severe genital malformations developed. Hypospadias-like phenotype is observed in ectodermal 2-catenin knockouts and in mice lacking 2-catenin during genital masculinization. More importantly, our preliminary data revealed sexually dimorphic expression of Wnt-antagonists and the functional roles of Shh and Wnt pathways during the masculinization of male external genitalia. These exciting results address a highly understudied area involving non-gonadal and locally produced masculine factors, such as growth factor signaling cascade in mediating sexually dimorphic external genital development. Based on these observations, this proposal will continue to uncover the signaling cascade regulating genital development and masculinization, focusing on Shh and Wnt pathways.
In aim I, we will test the hypothesis that Fgf8 is a direct target of Wnt signaling during GT development by attempting to rescue GT defects in Wnt mutants with FGF8. The role of ectodermal 2-catenin in GT morphogenesis will also be studied.
In aim II, we will test the hypothesis that Shh is required at multiple steps during GT patterning by analyzing in detail Shh and Smoothened conditional knockout GT phenotype. Shh-responding tissues in the GT will be delineated and the interaction between Shh and Wnt pathway will be studied. Finally in aim III, we will test the hypothesis that Wnt/Shh signaling is involved in the regulation of sexually dimorphic development of external genitalia by analyzing GT phenotype of several conditional knockout mutants. Our long term goal is to use mouse molecular genetics to understand the process of genital development and masculinization and the etiology of genital malformations, such as hypospadias. PUBLIC HEALTH RELEVAVANCE: This project proposes to study the function of two signaling pathways, Shh and Wnt, in both early androgen-independent and late sexually dimorphic phases of external genitalia development. Genital malformations including hypospadias occur at a very high rate but their etiology remains largely unknown. Using several conditional knockout mice, this project will reveal the downstream signaling events of these two important pathways and how they interact with each other and the androgen signaling pathway to regulate genital morphogenesis and masculinization. Our studies will contribute greatly to the understanding of external genitalia development and the etiology of hypospadias.

Public Health Relevance

This project proposes to study the function of two signaling pathways, Shh and Wnt, in both early androgen-independent and late sexually dimorphic phases of external genitalia development. Genital malformations including hypospadias occur at a very high rate but their etiology remains largely unknown. Using several conditional knockout mice, this project will reveal the downstream signaling events of these two important pathways and how they interact with each other and the androgen signaling pathway to regulate genital morphogenesis and masculinization. Our studies will contribute greatly to the understanding of external genitalia development and the etiology of hypospadias.

Agency
National Institute of Health (NIH)
Institute
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Type
Research Project (R01)
Project #
5R01ES016597-04
Application #
8265869
Study Section
Urologic and Kidney Development and Genitourinary Diseases Study Section (UKGD)
Program Officer
Schug, Thaddeus
Project Start
2009-05-01
Project End
2014-02-28
Budget Start
2012-03-01
Budget End
2013-02-28
Support Year
4
Fiscal Year
2012
Total Cost
$302,850
Indirect Cost
$76,448
Name
Washington University
Department
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Type
Schools of Medicine
DUNS #
068552207
City
Saint Louis
State
MO
Country
United States
Zip Code
63130
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