DMRT1: An Ancient Sexual Regulator Required for Human Gonadogenesis

David A Zarkower, Mark W. Murphy

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Transcriptional regulators related to the invertebrate sexual regulators doublesex and mab-3 occur throughout metazoans and control sex in most animal groups. Seven of these DMRT genes are found in mammals, and mouse genetics has shown that one, Dmrt1, plays a crucial role in testis differentiation, both in germ cells and somatic cells. Deletions and, more recently, point mutations affecting human DMRT1 have demonstrated that its heterozygosity is associated with 46,XY complete gonadal dysgenesis. Most of our detailed knowledge of DMRT1 function in the testis, the focus of this review, derives from mouse studies, which have revealed that DMRT1 is essential for male somatic and germ cell differentiation and maintenance of male somatic cell fate after differentiation. Moreover, ectopic DMRT1 can reprogram differentiated female granulosa cells into male Sertoli-like cells. The ability of DMRT1 to control sexual cell fate likely derives from at least 3 properties. First, DMRT1 functionally collaborates with another key male sex regulator, SOX9, and possibly other proteins to maintain and reprogram sexual cell fate. Second, and related, DMRT1 appears to function as a pioneer transcription factor, binding "closed"inaccessible chromatin and promoting its opening to allow binding by other regulators including SOX9. Third, DMRT1 binds DNA by a highly unusual form of interaction and can bind with different stoichiometries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)112-125
Number of pages14
JournalSexual Development
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Nov 1 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Work in the Zarkower and Bardwell laboratory has been supported by grants from the NIH (GM059152 and GM127379) and by the University of Minnesota Foundation and University of Minnesota Medical School.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • DM domain
  • DMRT1
  • DSD
  • Testis


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