Overexpression of Aromatase Alone is Sufficient for Ovarian Development in Genetically Male Chicken Embryos

Luke S Lambeth, David M Cummins, Timothy J. Doran, Andrew H. Sinclair, Craig A. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Estrogens play a key role in sexual differentiation of both the gonads and external traits in birds. The production of estrogen occurs via a well-characterised steroidogenic pathway, which is a multi-step process involving several enzymes, including cytochrome P450 aromatase. In chicken embryos, the aromatase gene (CYP19A1) is expressed female-specifically from the time of gonadal sex differentiation. To further explore the role of aromatase in sex determination, we ectopically delivered this enzyme using the retroviral vector RCASBP in ovo. Aromatase overexpression in male chicken embryos induced gonadal sex-reversal characterised by an enlargement of the left gonad and development of ovarian structures such as a thickened outer cortex and medulla with lacunae. In addition, the expression of key male gonad developmental genes (DMRT1, SOX9 and Anti-Müllerian hormone (AMH)) was suppressed, and the distribution of germ cells in sex-reversed males followed the female pattern. The detection of SCP3 protein in late stage sex-reversed male embryonic gonads indicated that these genetically male germ cells had entered meiosis, a process that normally only occurs in female embryonic germ cells. This work shows for the first time that the addition of aromatase into a developing male embryo is sufficient to direct ovarian development, suggesting that male gonads have the complete capacity to develop as ovaries if provided with aromatase.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere68362
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume8
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes

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