Birds have a ZZ male and ZW female sex chromosome system. The relative roles of genetics and hormones in regulating avian sexual development have been revealed by studies on gynandromorphs. Gynandromorphs are rare bilateral sex chimeras, male on one side of the body and female on the other. We examined a naturally occurring gynandromorphic chicken that was externally male on the right side of the body and female on the left. The bird was diploid but with a mix of ZZ and ZW cells that correlated with the asymmetric sexual phenotype. The male side was 96% ZZ, and the female side was 77% ZZ and 23% ZW. The gonads of this bird at sexual maturity were largely testicular. The right gonad was a testis, with SOX9 + Sertoli cells, DMRT1 + germ cells, and active spermatogenesis. The left gonad was primarily testicular, but with some peripheral aromatase-expressing follicles. The bird had low levels of serum estradiol and high levels of testosterone, as expected for a male. Despite the low percentage of ZW cells on that side, the left side had female sex-linked feathering, smaller muscle mass, smaller leg and spur, and smaller wattle than the male side. This indicates that these sexually dimorphic structures must be at least partly independent of sex steroid effects. Even a small percentage of ZW cells appears sufficient to support female sexual differentiation. Given the lack of chromosome-wide dosage compensation in birds, various sexually dimorphic features may arise due to Z-gene dosage differences between the sexes.
- reproductive biology
- sex-based medicine