Cryptorchidism is the most common disorder of sex development (DSD) in dogs. This malformation is associated with reduced fertility and with a higher risk of gonadal cancer. Testicular descent is a complex process, and the functions of many environmental and genetic factors are crucial for the proper migration of fetal gonads into the scrotum. Among these, the hormone INSL3 (insulin-like peptide 3) and its receptor RXFP2 (relaxin family peptide receptor 2) play crucial roles in the transabdominal migration of the testes. The genetic background of canine cryptorchidism is poorly elucidated. The aim of this study was to compare the transcript and methylation levels of INSL3 and RXFP2 genes in undescended and descended testes of isolated unilateral cryptorchids, and in gonads of control male dogs with scrotal testes. Next, we searched for polymorphic variants in the 5′-regulatory regions of both genes associated with predispositions to cryptorchidism. The INSL3 transcript level was significantly higher in the undescended testes than in the descended testes of both the affected and control dogs. On the other hand, the mRNA level of RXFP2 was significantly lower in the retained gonads of cryptorchids than in the scrotal testes. The methylation level of a single CpG site located 15 bp upstream of the translation start codon in INSL3 was significantly higher in the testes of the control dogs than in both gonads of cryptorchids. The methylation level of 14 CpG sites in the coding region of INSL3 was significantly higher in undescended testes than in the scrotal testes, which may be associated with the higher mRNA levels of INSL3 observed in these samples. The methylation pattern of two CpG sites in the 5′-flanking region of RXFP2 was similar in both descended and undescended testes. We detected three and seven single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the 5′-regulatory regions of INSL3 and RXFP2, respectively. Among these, the frequency of A > C substitution (ss7093349755) located 495 bp upstream of the transcription start site of RXFP2 differed significantly between cryptorchids and control dogs. Our study showed two possible genetic biomarkers associated with canine cryptorchidism: a hypomethylation of a single CpG site in the 5′-flanking region of INSL3, and the ss7093349755 SNP in the 5′-flanking region of RXFP2.
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