In search of determinants: gene expression during gonadal sex differentiation


  • K. R. Siegfried

    Corresponding author
    1. Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Department of Genetics, Spemannstrasse 35, 72076 Tuebingen, Germany
      Tel.: +49 7071 601 415; fax: +49 7071 601 384; email:
    Search for more papers by this author

Tel.: +49 7071 601 415; fax: +49 7071 601 384; email:


The diversity of inputs that guide sexual fate during development is both intriguing and daunting. In the field of fish biology, the study of sex determination is of great importance. For example, in aquaculture, sexually dimorphic growth rates and overall size leads to one sex being more marketable than the other. Moreover, for breeding purposes it is important to maintain balanced sex ratios. Furthermore, sex determination is sensitive to environmental factors, such as temperature and contaminants, which can lead to skewed sex ratios, intersexes and sterility in wild or farmed fish. The gonad is typically the first organ to exhibit morphological signs of sexual dimorphism and therefore is likely to be the primary organ system whose fate is controlled by the sex determination cues in many fish species. Additionally, the sexual fate of the gonad has been shown to fully or partially control organismal sex differentiation. Thus, understanding the genetic regulation of gonadal sex differentiation is critical in studies of fish sex determination. This review summarizes recent knowledge of genes expressed during gonadal sex differentiation in gonochoristic teleost fish. Three species are discussed, which serve as excellent model systems for probing teleost sex differentiation: the Oreochromis niloticus, Oryzias latipes and Danio rerio. The similarities and differences between gonadal gene expression in these three species and in comparison to mammals suggest conserved roles during vertebrate gonadal sex differentiation. In the future, it will be essential to develop tools to assay the function of genes expressed during gonadal sex differentiation in fish.