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Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2009 May;20(3):283-92. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2008.10.004. Epub 2008 Nov 1.

Steroid signaling and temperature-dependent sex determination-Reviewing the evidence for early action of estrogen during ovarian determination in turtles.

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  • 1Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas, 2400 Speedway, Austin, TX 78712, United States.


The developmental processes underlying gonadal differentiation are conserved across vertebrates, but the triggers initiating these trajectories are extremely variable. The red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) exhibits temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), a system where incubation temperature during a temperature-sensitive period of development determines offspring sex. However, gonadal sex is sensitive to both temperature and hormones during this period-particularly estrogen. We present a model for temperature-based differences in aromatase expression as a critical step in ovarian determination. Localized estrogen production facilitates ovarian development while inhibiting male-specific gene expression. At male-producing temperatures aromatase is not upregulated, thereby allowing testis development.

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