Insights into Gonadal Sex Differentiation Provided by Single-Cell Transcriptomics in the Chicken Embryo

Martin Andres Estermann, Sarah Williams, Claire Elizabeth Hirst, Zahida Yesmin Roly, Olivier Serralbo, Deepak Adhikari, David Powell, Andrew Thomas Major, Craig Allen Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


Although the genetic triggers for gonadal sex differentiation vary across species, the cell biology of gonadal development was long thought to be largely conserved. Here, we present a comprehensive analysis of gonadal sex differentiation, using single-cell sequencing in the embryonic chicken gonad during sexual differentiation. The data show that chicken embryonic-supporting cells do not derive from the coelomic epithelium, in contrast to other vertebrates studied. Instead, they derive from a DMRT1+/PAX2+/WNT4+/OSR1+ mesenchymal cell population. We find a greater complexity of gonadal cell types than previously thought, including the identification of two distinct sub-populations of Sertoli cells in developing testes and derivation of embryonic steroidogenic cells from a differentiated supporting-cell lineage. Altogether, these results indicate that, just as the genetic trigger for sex differs across vertebrate groups, cell lineage specification in the gonad may also vary substantially.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107491
Number of pages19
JournalCell Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2020


  • chicken
  • DMRT1
  • embryonic gonad
  • gonadal sex differentiation
  • ovary
  • PAX2
  • sex determination
  • single-cell RNA-seq
  • testis

Cite this