Dmrt1 genes at the crossroads: a widespread and central class of sexual development factors in fish


A. Herpin, University of Wuerzburg, Physiological Chemistry, Am Hubland, D-97074 Wuerzburg, Germany
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A plethora of corroborative genetic studies led to the view that, across the animal kingdom, the gene-regulatory cascades triggering sexual development bear little resemblance to each other. As a result, the common emerging picture is that the genes at the top of the cascade are not conserved, whereas the downstream genes have homologues in a much broader spectrum of species. Among these downstream effectors, a gene family involved in sex differentiation in organisms as phylogenetically divergent as corals, Caenorhabditis elegans, Drosophila, frogs, fish, birds and mammals is the dmrt gene family. Despite the attention that Dmrt1 factors have received, to date it has not been elucidated how Dmrt1s mediate their activities and putative downstream targets have yet to be characterized. However, a remarkable amount of descriptive expression data has been gathered in a large variety of fish, particularly with respect to early gonadal differentiation and sex change. This minireview aims at distilling the current knowledge of fish dmrt1s, in terms of expression and regulation. It is shown how gonadal identities correlate with dimorphic dmrt1 expression in gonochoristic and hermaphroditic fish species. It is also described how sex steroid hormones affect gonadal identity and dmrt1 expression. Emphasis is also given to recent findings dealing with transcriptional, post-transcriptional, post-translational and functional regulations of the dmrt1a/dmrt1bY gene pair in medaka.