Epithelial-mesenchymal interactions play a central role in the development of urogenital organs. We hypothesized that normal development of the external genitalia depends upon proper mesenchymal-epithelial signaling. The mesenchyme of the adult mouse penis consists of a corpus cavernosum and proximal and distal bones. The differentiation of penile mesenchyme into bone and cartilage begins after birth and can be accelerated by androgens. After determining the sex, genital tubercles of fetal mice at gestational day 15 were removed. The genital tubercles were trypsinized and microdissected to remove the epidermis and urethra from the mesenchyme. Recombinant specimens were created by combining genital tubercle mesenchyme with genital tubercle epithelium, bladder epithelium or tail epidermis. Tissues were grafted under the renal capsule of male athymic mice. After 3 weeks of growth, grafts were removed from the kidney, weighed and stained with hematoxylin and eosin, Alcian blue and peanut agglutinin. Male and female grafts showed no difference in growth or differentiation. Intact grafts and recombinant grafts, irrespective of the epithelial source, grew significantly more than grafts of the mesenchyme only. Recombinant grafts demonstrated a significantly higher prevalence of cartilage formation and mesenchymal differentiation compared to grafts of the mesenchyme without epithelium. Since heterologous epithelium is able to induce equivalent growth and differentiation of phallic mesenchyme, epithelium carries a permissive, but critical, role in genital mesenchyme development.

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