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J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2005 Apr;94(5):395-404. Epub 2005 Mar 23.

Sex change strategy and the aromatase genes.

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Bribie Island Aquaculture Research Centre, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, PO Box 2066, Woorim, Queensland 4507, Australia.


Sequential hermaphroditism is a common reproductive strategy in many teleosts. Steroid production is known to mediate both the natural and induced sex change, yet beyond this the physiology directing this process has received little attention. Cytochrome P450 aromatase is a key enzyme in the hormonal pathway catalysing the conversion of sex steroids, androgens to oestrogens, and thus is highly relevant to the process of sex change. This study reports the isolation of cDNA sequences for aromatase isoforms CYP19A1 and CYP19A2 from teleost species representing three forms of sexual hermaphroditism: Lates calcarifer (protandry), Cromileptes altivelis (protogyny), and Gobiodon histrio (bi-directional). Deduced amino acid analysis of these isoforms with other reported isoforms from gonochoristic (single sex) teleosts revealed 56-95% identity within the same isoform while only 48-65% identity between isoforms irrespective of species and sexual strategy. Phylogenetic analysis supported this result separating sequences into isoform exclusive clades in spite of species apparent evolutionary distance. Furthermore, this study isolates 5' flanking regions of all above genes and describes putative cis-acting elements therein. Elements identified include steroidogenic factor 1 binding site (SF-1), oestrogen response element (ERE), progesterone response element (PRE), androgen response element (ARE), glucocorticoid response elements (GRE), peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha/retinoid X receptor alpha heterodimer responsive element (PPARalpha/RXRalpha), nuclear factor kappabeta (NF-kappabeta), SOX 5, SOX 9, and Wilms tumor suppressor (WTI). A hypothetical in vivo model was constructed for both isoforms highlighting potential roles of these putative cis-acting elements with reference to normal function and sexual hermaphroditism.

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