Sex determination in the chicken embryo

Craig A. Smith, Andrew H. Sinclair

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The chicken embryo represents a suitable model for studying vertebrate sex determination and gonadal sex differentiation. While the basic mechanism of sex determination in birds is still unknown, gonadal morphogenesis is very similar to that in mammals, and most of the genes implicated in mammalian sex determination have avian homologues. However, in the chicken embryo, these genes show some interesting differences in structure or expression patterns to their mammalian counterparts, broadening our understanding of their functions. The novel candidate testis-determining gene in mammals, DMRT1, is also present in the chicken, and is expressed specifically in the embryonic gonads. In chicken embryos, DMRT1 is more highly expressed in the gonads and Müllerian ducts of male embryos than in those of females. Meanwhile, expression of the orphan nuclear receptor, Steroidogenic Factor 1 (SF1) is up-regulated during ovarian differentiation in the chicken embryo. This contrasts with the expression pattern of SF1 in mouse embryos, in which expression is down-regulated during female differentiation. Another orphan receptor initially implicated in mammalian sex determination, DAX1, is poorly conserved in the chicken. A chicken DAX1 homologue isolated from a urogenital ridge library lacked the unusual DNA-binding motif seen in mammals. Chicken DAX1 is autosomal, and is expressed in the embryonic gonads, showing somewhat higher expression in female compared to male gonads, as in mammals. However, expression is not down-regulated at the onset of testicular differentiation in chicken embryos, as occurs in mice. These comparative data shed light on vertebrate sex determination in general.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)691-699
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2001
Externally publishedYes

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