Sex determination and sexual differentiation in the avian model

Justin Chue, Craig A. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The sex of birds is determined by the inheritance of sex chromosomes (ZZ male and ZW female). Genes carried on one or both of these sex chromosomes control sexual differentiation during embryonic life, producing testes in males (ZZ) and ovaries in females (ZW). This minireview summarizes our current understanding of avian sex determination and gonadal development. Most recently, it has been shown that sex is cell autonomous in birds. Evidence from gynandromorphic chickens (male on one side, female on the other) points to the likelihood that sex is determined directly in each cell of the body, independently of, or in addition to, hormonal signalling. Hence, sex-determining genes may operate not only in the gonads, to produce testes or ovaries, but also throughout cells of the body. In the chicken, as in other birds, the gonads develop into ovaries or testes during embryonic life, a process that must be triggered by sex-determining genes. This process involves the Z-linked DMRT1 gene. If DMRT1 gene activity is experimentally reduced, the gonads of male embryos (ZZ) are feminized, with ovarian-type structure, downregulation of male markers and activation of female markers. DMRT1 is currently the best candidate gene thought to regulate gonadal sex differentiation. However, if sex is cell autonomous, DMRT1 cannot be the master regulator, as its expression is confined to the urogenital system. Female development in the avian model appears to be shared with mammals; both the FOXL2 and RSPO1/WNT4 pathways are implicated in ovarian differentiation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1027-1034
Number of pages8
JournalFEBS Journal
Volume278
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • avian sex chromosomes
  • bird
  • chicken sex determination
  • DMRT1
  • embryonic gonads
  • FOXL2
  • ovary
  • RSPO1
  • testis
  • WNT4

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