SOX-9 recognizes the sequence CCTTGAG along with other members of the HMG-box class DNA-binding proteins. It acts during chondrocyte differentiation and, with steroidogenic factor 1, regulates transcription of the anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH) gene.
SOX-9 also plays a pivotal role in male sexual development; by working with Sf1, SOX-9 can produce AMH in Sertoli cells to inhibit the creation of a female reproductive system. It also interacts with a few other genes to promote the development of male sexual organs. The process starts when the transcription factor Testis determining factor (encoded by the sex-determining region SRY of the Y chromosome) activates SOX-9 activity by binding to an enhancer sequence upstream of the gene. Next, Sox9 activates FGF9 and forms feedforward loops with FGF9 and PGD2. These loops are important for producing SOX-9; without these loops, SOX-9 would run out and the development of a female would almost certainly ensue. Activation of FGF9 by SOX-9 starts vital processes in male development, such as the creation of testis cords and the multiplication of Sertoli cells. The association of SOX-9 and Dax1 actually creates Sertoli cells, another vital process in male development. In the brain development, its murine ortholog Sox-9 induces the expression of Wwp1, Wwp2, and miR-140 to regulate cortical plate entry of newly born nerve cells, and regulate axon branching and axon formation in cortical neurons.
SOX9 sits in a gene desert on 17q24 in humans. Deletions, disruptions by translocation breakpoints and a single point mutation of highly conserved non-coding elements located > 1 Mb from the transcription unit on either side of SOX9 have been associated with Pierre Robin Sequence, often with a cleft palate.
SOX9 is mostly localised in the nucleus and it is highly mobile. Studies in chondrocyte cell line has revealed nearly 50% of SOX9 is bound to DNA and it is directly regulated by external factors. Its half-time of residence on DNA is ~14 seconds.
Mutations in Sox9 or any associated genes can cause reversal of sex and hermaphroditism (or intersexuality in humans). If Fgf9, which is activated by Sox9, is not present, a fetus with both X and Y chromosomes can develop female gonads; the same is true if Dax1 is not present. The related phenomena of hermaphroditism can be caused by unusual activity of the SRY, usually when it's translocated onto the X-chromosome and its activity is only activated in some cells.
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