The cranial suspensory ligament is located on the border of the cranial (mesonephric) mesentery in adult female mammals, which runs between the cranial pole of the internal genitalia and the dorsal abdominal wall. Absence of the cranial suspensory ligament in male mammals depends upon exposure of its primordium to fetal testicular androgens and is a prerequisite for testis descent. Female rats were exposed to 5alpha-dihydrotestosterone propionate at different stages of genital development, and cranial suspensory ligament development was studied in neonatal and in adult animals. Androgens suppressed cranial suspensory ligament development when exposure started during the early stages of genital development, until day 19 postconception (pc). Androgen receptor expression was immunohistochemically detected in the cranial mesentery of both sexes from day 16 pc onwards. A decrease of androgen receptor expression in female fetuses from day 18 pc onwards coincided with the appearance of a differentiated cranial suspensory ligament, as evidenced by the expression of two cell differentiation markers: alpha-smooth muscle (alpha-SM) actin and desmin. alpha-SM actin was located on the outer border of the cranial mesentery of both sexes at day 17 pc, and expression increased only in female fetuses. On day 19 pc, desmin expression was also detectable in the a-SM actin-positive cells. Proliferation and apoptosis indices of cells in the cranial mesentery, as analysed by 5'-bromodeoxyuridine incorporation and by detection of DNA strand breaks (TUNEL method) respectively, did not show any difference between the sexes, neither on day 17 nor on day 18 pc. Since primordial cells of the cranial suspensory ligament highly express the androgen receptor during the period of gestation when androgens can suppress cranial suspensory development, altered morphogenesis of these cells may be a direct consequence of androgen action.

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Human Reproduction
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Emmen, J., McLuskey, A., Grootegoed, A., & Brinkmann, A. (1998). Androgen action during male sex differentiation includes suppression of cranial suspensory ligament development. Human Reproduction. Retrieved from