Wolffian duct differentiation by physiological concentrations of androgen delivered systemically

Marilyn B. Renfree, Jane Fenelon, Gratiana Wijiyanti, Jean D. Wilson, Geoffrey Shaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


In developing mammalian males, conversion of the Wolffian ducts into the epididymides and vasa deferentia depends on androgen secretion by the testes, whereas in females these ducts remain in a vestigial form or regress. However, there is continuing uncertainty whether the androgen needs to be delivered locally, either by diffusion from the adjacent testis or, by secretion into the lumen of the duct, or whether circulating androgens maintain and virilize the Wolffian ducts. To resolve this uncertainty, we transplanted either day 0-2 or day 8-9 post-partum testes beneath the flank skin of three groups of neonatal (days 0-1) female tammar wallabies, where they developed and secreted physiological levels of hormones. The Wolffian ducts of all these females were retained and had formed extensive epididymides when examined at days 25, 34 and 87 after birth. In the two older groups of females, sampled after the time of prostatic bud formation, the urogenital sinus was virilized and there was extensive prostatic development similar to that of normal males of the same age, showing that androgen secretion had occurred. Virilization of the Wolffian ducts occurred during an early but short-lived window of sensitivity. This study provides the first clear evidence that under physiological conditions virilization can be mediated by circulating androgen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)429-436
Number of pages8
JournalDevelopmental Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 15 2009


  • Androgen imprinting
  • Androstanediol
  • Anti-Müllerian hormone
  • Genital ducts
  • Gonadal transplantation
  • Marsupial
  • Sexual differentiation
  • Testosterone
  • Urogenital system
  • Xenotransplantation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Cell Biology


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