Mammalian sex determination is a dynamic process involving balanced gene expression leading to the development of either a testis or an ovary. Candidate sex-determining genes have been identified through microarray-based studies of gonadal gene expression; however, few methods exist for validation. This study describes a new technique for transfecting gonads using nucleofection. Fifteen micrograms of expression plasmid DNA was transfected into E11.5 gonads, cultured for 3 days and gene expression analyzed. Following optimization, we consistently achieved cell transfection efficiencies of 11% of cells using pMax-GFP plasmid. To test the applicability of nucleofection to studies of gene function, a testis-determining gene was transfected into gonads and its ability to sex-reverse was examined. When Sry was transfected into female (XX) gonads, upregulation of its target gene Sox9 was observed, as well as a downregulation of the ovarian gene Foxl2. Conversely, when shSox9 was introduced into male (XY) gonads, reduction of Sox9 and its target gene, Amh was observed, with a concomitant upregulation of Foxl2. Nucleofection-based gene delivery can recapitulate in vivo events of gonadal development that demonstrates ‘proof-of-principle’ of the method as a screening tool to evaluate the cellular function of potential sex-determining and gonadal differentiation genes.

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