A diverse array of sex determination (SD) mechanisms, encompassing environmental to genetic, have been found to exist among vertebrates, covering a spectrum from fixed SD mechanisms (mammals) to functional sex change in fishes (sequential hermaphroditic fishes). A major landmark in vertebrate SD was the discovery of the SRY gene in 1990. Since that time, many attempts to clone an SRY ortholog from nonmammalian vertebrates remained unsuccessful, until 2002, when DMY/dmrt1by was discovered as the SD gene of a small fish, medaka. Surprisingly, however, DMY/dmrt1by was found in only 2 species among more than 20 species of medaka, suggesting a large diversity of SD genes among vertebrates. Considerable progress has been made over the last 3 decades, such that it is now possible to formulate reasonable paradigms of how SD and gonadal sex differentiation may work in some model vertebrate species. This review outlines our current understanding of vertebrate SD and gonadal sex differentiation, with a focus on the molecular and cellular mechanisms involved. An impressive number of genes and factors have been discovered that play important roles in testicular and ovarian differentiation. An antagonism between the male and female pathway genes exists in gonads during both sex differentiation and, surprisingly, even as adults, suggesting that, in addition to sex-changing fishes, gonochoristic vertebrates including mice maintain some degree of gonadal sexual plasticity into adulthood. Importantly, a review of various SD mechanisms among vertebrates suggests that this is the ideal biological event that can make us understand the evolutionary conundrums underlying speciation and species diversity.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Physiology (medical)