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James A Oakes, Lise Barnard, Karl-Heinz Storbeck, Vincent T Cunliffe, and Nils P Krone

The roles of androgens in male reproductive development and function in zebrafish are poorly understood. To investigate this topic we employed CRISPR/Cas9 to generate cyp11c1 (11β-hydroxylase) mutant zebrafish lines. Our study confirms recently published findings from a different cyp11c1-/- mutant zebrafish line, and also reports novel aspects of the phenotype caused by loss of Cyp11c1 function. We report that Cyp11c1-deficient zebrafish display predominantly female secondary sex characteristics, but may possess either ovaries or testes. Moreover, we observed that cyp11c1-/- mutant male zebrafish are profoundly androgen- and cortisol-deficient. These results provide further evidence that androgens are dispensable for testis formation in zebrafish, as has been demonstrated previously in androgen-deficient and androgen-resistant zebrafish. Herein, we show that the testes of cyp11c1-/- mutant zebrafish exhibit a disorganised tubular structure; and for the first time demonstrate that the spermatic ducts, which connect the testes to the urogenital orifice, are severely hypoplastic in androgen-deficient zebrafish. Furthermore, we show that spermatogenesis and characteristic breeding behaviours are impaired in cyp11c1-/- mutant zebrafish. Expression of nanos2, a type A spermatogonia marker, was significantly increased in the testes of Cyp11c1-deficient zebrafish, whereas expression of markers for later stages of spermatogenesis was significantly decreased. These observations indicate that in zebrafish, production of type A spermatogonia is androgen-independent, but differentiation of type A spermatogonia is an androgen-dependent process. Overall, our results demonstrate that whilst androgens are not required for testis formation, they play important roles in determining secondary sexual characteristics, proper organisation of seminiferous tubules, and differentiation of male germ cells.

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Nan Li, James A Oakes, Karl-Heinz Storbeck, Vincent T Cunliffe, and Nils P Krone

Cytochrome P450 side-chain cleavage enzyme, encoded by the CYP11A1 gene, catalyzes the first and rate-limiting step of steroid hormone biosynthesis. Previous morpholino-knockdown studies in zebrafish suggested cyp11a2 is a functional equivalent of human CYP11A1 and is essential for interrenal steroidogenesis in zebrafish larvae. The role of Cyp11a2 in adult zebrafish, particularly in gonadal steroidogenesis, remains elusive. To explore the role of Cyp11a2 in adults, we developed zebrafish mutant lines by creating deletions in cyp11a2 using the CRISPR/Cas9 genomic engineering approach. Homozygous cyp11a2 mutant zebrafish larvae showed an upregulation of the hypothalamic–pituitary–interrenal axis. Furthermore, these Cyp11a2-deficient zebrafish demonstrated profound glucocorticoid and androgen deficiencies. Cyp11a2 homozygotes only developed into males with feminized secondary sex characteristics. Adult cyp11a2 −/− mutant fish showed a lack of natural breeding behaviors. Histological characterization revealed disorganized testicular structure and significantly decreased numbers of mature spermatozoa. These findings are further supported by the downregulation of the expression of several pro-male genes in the testes of cyp11a2 homozygous zebrafish, including sox9a, dmrt1 and amh. Moreover, the spermatogonia markers nanos2 and piwil1 were upregulated, while the spermatocytes marker sycp3 and spermatids marker odf3b were downregulated in the testes of cyp11a2 homozygous mutants. Our expression analysis is consistent with our histological studies, suggesting that spermatogonia are the predominant cell types in the testes of cyp11a2 homozygous mutants. Our work thus demonstrates the crucial role of Cyp11a2 in interrenal and gonadal steroidogenesis in zebrafish larvae and adults.