Gonadal expression of Sf1 and aromatase during sex determination in the red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta), a reptile with temperature-dependent sex determination


✉ E-mail: crews@mail.utexas.edu


Abstract Many egg-laying reptiles have temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), where the offspring sex is determined by incubation temperature during a temperature-sensitive period (TSP) in the middle third of development. The underlying mechanism transducing a temperature cue into an ovary or testis is unknown, but it is known that steroid hormones play an important role. During the TSP, exogenous application of estrogen can override a temperature cue and produce females, while blocking the activity of aromatase (Cyp19a1), the enzyme that converts testosterone to estradiol, produces males from a female-biased temperature. The production of estrogen is a key step in ovarian differentiation for many vertebrates, including TSD reptiles, and temperature-based differences in aromatase expression during the TSP may be a critical step in ovarian determination. Steroidogenic factor-1 (Sf1) is a key gene in vertebrate sex determination and regulates many steroidogenic enzymes, including aromatase. We find that Sf1 and aromatase are differentially expressed during sex determination in the red-eared slider turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans. Sf1 is expressed at higher levels during testis development while aromatase expression increases during ovary determination. We also assayed Sf1 and aromatase response to sex-reversing treatments via temperature or the modulation of estrogen availability. Sf1 expression was redirected to low-level female-specific patterns with feminizing temperature shift or exogenous estradiol application and redirected to more intense male-specific patterns with male-producing temperature shift or inhibition of aromatase activity. Conversely, aromatase expression was redirected to more intense female-specific patterns with female-producing treatment and redirected toward diffuse low-level male-specific patterns with masculinizing sex reversal. Our data do not lend support to a role for Sf1 in the regulation of aromatase expression during slider turtle sex determination, but do support a critical role for estrogen in ovarian development.