DMRT genes encode a deeply conserved family of transcription factors that share a unique DNA binding motif, the DM domain. DMRTs regulate development in a broad variety of metazoans and they appear to have controlled sexual differentiation for hundreds of millions of years. In mice, starting during embryonic development, three Dmrt genes act sequentially to help establish and maintain spermatogenesis. Dmrt1 has notably diverse functions that include repressing pluripotency genes and promoting mitotic arrest in embryonic germ cells, reactivating prospermatogonia perinatally, establishing and maintaining spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), promoting spermatogonial differentiation, and controlling the mitosis/meiosis switch. Dmrt6 acts in differentiating spermatogonia to coordinate an orderly exit from the mitotic/spermatogonial program and allow proper timing of entry to the meiotic/spermatocyte program. Finally, Dmrt7 takes over during the first meiotic prophase to help choreograph a transition in histone modifications that maintains transcriptional silencing of the sex chromosomes. The combined action of these three Dmrt genes helps ensure robust and sustainable spermatogenesis.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors thank Vivian Bardwell, Robin Lindeman and Kellie Agrimson for critical reading of the manuscript. Research from the Zarkower/Bardwell laboratory reviewed in this article was supported by the University of Minnesota Medical School, Minnesota Medical Foundation, and the NIH ( 5 R01 GM59152 and 5 T32 HD060536 ).