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Sex Dev. 2014;8(5):327-36. doi: 10.1159/000358447. Epub 2014 Feb 27.

Hormone-independent pathways of sexual differentiation.

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Department of Zoology, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic., Australia.


New observations over the last 25 years of hormone-independent sexual dimorphisms have gradually and unequivocally overturned the dogma, arising from Jost's elegant experiments in the mid-1900s, that all somatic sex dimorphisms in vertebrates arise from the action of gonadal hormones. Although we know that Sry, a Y-linked gene, is the primary gonadal sex determinant in mammals, more recent analysis in marsupials, mice, and finches has highlighted numerous sexual dimorphisms that are evident well before the differentiation of the testis and which cannot be explained by a sexually dimorphic hormonal environment. In marsupials, scrotal bulges and mammary primordia are visible before the testis has differentiated due to the expression of a gene(s) on the X chromosome. ZZ and ZW gynandromorph finches have brains that develop in a sexually dimorphic way dependent on their sex chromosome content. In genetically manipulated mice, it is the X chromosomes, not the gonads, that determine many characters including rate of early development, adiposity, and neural circuits. Even spotted hyenas have sexual dimorphisms that cannot be simply explained by hormonal exposure. This review discusses the recent findings that confirm that there are hormone-independent sexual dimorphisms well before the gonads begin to produce their hormones.

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