[Cite as http://purl.org/au-research/grants/nhmrc/148630]
A/Pr Andrew Pask
Prof Marilyn Renfree
Prof Vincent Harley
Brief description Human sex determination is controlled by a genetic pathway which culminates in the development of a testis or an ovary in the human embryo. At the head of this pathway is the master switch gene SRY on the Y chromosome, which controls a cascade of other genes critical for switching on testis development. Several other genes have been identified by clinical mutations which reverse sex of XY embryos. One sex reversing gene is ATRX on the human X chromosome. Mutation in ATRX causes XY embryos to develop as females, as well as causing many unrelated disorders such as alpha-thalassemia. ATRX seems to be a transcription factor that controls the activity of other genes, but it is difficult to understand how it functions because it is active in all parts of the body and mutation has many different effects in humans. However, we recently discovered that in marsupial mammals that this gene has a copy on the Y chromosome (ATRY) as well as the X (ATRX). Remarkably, there is a division of labour between ATRY, which acts only in developing gonads, and ATRX, which is active everywhere else. This testis-specific ATRY gene may reveal how ATRX interacts with other genes to make a testis, without the complications of its action in other tissues. We will therefore clone and characterize ATRX-Y and its protein product to find out when and where it acts in the sex determining pathway. We will use very large cloned pieces of the marsupial genome to discover elements controlling the testis-specific expression, and we will identify the interactions of ATRY with other proteins. The testis determination pathway is a good model for the differentiation of other human organs. Our work on ATRY will show us how this class of transcription factors is activated in different tissues during development, and how it controls other genes. This will lead to a better understanding of the genetic control of human organogenesis and the effects of mutation on human development.
Funding Amount $AUD 272,131.72
Funding Scheme NHMRC Project Grants
Standard Project Grant