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Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2012 May 6;354(1-2):103-10. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2011.10.012. Epub 2011 Oct 21.

Molecular mechanisms of temperature-dependent sex determination in the context of ecological developmental biology.

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Section of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


Temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) is a prime example of phenotypic plasticity in that gonadal sex is determined by the temperature of the incubating egg. In the red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta), the effect of temperature can be overridden by exogenous ligands, i.e., sex steroid hormones and steroid metabolism enzyme inhibitors, during the temperature-sensitive period (TSP) of development. Precisely how the physical signal of temperature is transduced into a biological signal that ultimately results in sex determination remains unknown. In this review, we discuss the sex determining pathway underlying TSD by focusing on two candidate sex determining genes, Forkhead box protein L2 (FoxL2) and Doublesex mab3- related transcription factor 1 (Dmrt1). They appear to be involved in transducing the environmental temperature signal into a biological signal that subsequently determines gonadal sex. FoxL2 and Dmrt1 exhibit gonad-typical patterns of expression in response to temperature during the TSP in the red-eared slider turtle. Further, the biologically active ligands regulate the expression of FoxL2 and Dmrt1 during development to modify gonad trajectory. The precise regulatory mechanisms of expression of these genes by temperature or exogenous ligands are not clear. However, the environment often influences developmental gene expression by altering the epigenetic status in regulatory regions. Here, we will discuss if the regulation of FoxL2 and Dmrt1 expression by environment is mediated through epigenetic mechanisms during development in species with TSD.

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