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Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol. 2010 Aug;152(2):202-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpc.2010.04.005. Epub 2010 Apr 11.

Temporal expression and steroidal regulation of piRNA pathway genes (mael, piwi, vasa) during Silurana (Xenopus) tropicalis embryogenesis and early larval development.

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Centre for Advanced Research in Environmental Genomics, Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N6N5.


It has been extensively documented that exposure of amphibians and teleost fish to exogenous steroid hormones like estrogen, androgen, xenoestrogen or steroid biosynthesis inhibitors can impair their gonadal development or induce sex reversal against genotypic sex. However, the molecular pathways underlying sexual development and the effects of sex steroids or other exogenous hormones in these aquatic vertebrates remain elusive. Recently, a germ plasm-associated piRNA (piwi-interacting RNA) pathway has been shown to be a determinant in the development of animal gonadal germline cells. In the current study, we examined whether this piRNA pathway is involved in the regulation of sex steroid hormones in gonadal development. We firstly established developmental expression patterns of three key piRNA pathway genes (mael, piwi and vasa), during Silurana (Xenopus) tropicalis embryogenesis and early larval development. All three genes exhibit high expression at early developmental stages and have significantly decreased expression thereafter, indicating a very active involvement of piRNA pathway at the beginning of embryogenesis. We further examined gene expression changes of those genes in frog larvae exposed to two sex steroid biosynthesis inhibitors, fadrozole and finasteride, both of which are known to result in male-biased or female-biased phenotypes, respectively. We found that fadrozole and finasteride exposures increased the expression of piRNA pathway genes such as mael and vasa at the larval stage when the expression of piRNA pathway genes is programmed to be very low. Therefore, our results indicate that the piRNA pathway is likely a common pathway by which different sex steroid hormones regulate gonadal sex differentiation.

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