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Cytogenet Genome Res. 2002;96(1-4):60-5.

Akodon sex reversed females: the never ending story.

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Laboratory of Population Molecular Genetics, Multidisciplinary Institute of Cell Biology (IMBICE), La Plata, Argentina.


The existence of fertile A. azarae females with a chromosome sex pair indistinguishable from that of males was reported more than 35 years ago. These heterogametic females were initially thought to occur due to an extreme process of dosage compensation in which X inactivation was restricted to Xp and complemented by a deletion of Xq (Xx females). Later on, a C-banding analysis of A. mollis variant females showed that these specimens were in fact XY* sex reversed and not Xx females. The finding of positive testing for Zfy and Sry multiple-copy genes in Akodon males and heterogametic females confirmed the XY* assumption. At the present time, XY* sex reversed females have been found to exist in nine Akodon species. Akodon heterogametic females produce X and Y* oocytes, which upon sperm fertilization give rise to viable XX (female), XY* (female), and XY (male) embryos, and to non-viable Y*Y zygotes. Heterozygous females exhibit a better reproductive performance than XX females in order to compensate the Y*Y zygote wastage. XY* sex reversed females are assumed to occur due to a deficient Sry expression resulting in the development of ovaries instead of testes. Moreover, the appearance of Y* elements is a highly recurrent event. It is proposed that homozygosity for an autosomal or pseudoautosomal recessive mutation (s-) inhibits Sry expression giving rise to XY* embryos with ovary development. Location of the Y* chromosome in the female germ cell lineage produces an ovary-specific imprinting of the Sry* gene maintaining its defective expression through generations independently from the presence or absence of s- homozygosity. By escaping the ovary-specific methylation some Y* chromosomes turn back to normal Ys producing Y oocytes capable of generating normal male embryos when fertilized by an X sperm. Fluctuations in the rate of variant females in field populations and in laboratory colonies of Akodon depend on the balance between the appearance of new variant females (s-/s-, XY* specimens) and the extinction of sex reversed specimens due to imprinting escape.

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