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Heat-induced masculinization in domesticated zebrafish is family-specific and yields a set of different gonadal transcriptomes

Ribas, L., Liew, W.C., Díaz, N., Sreenivasan, R., Orbán, L. and Piferrer, F. (2017) Heat-induced masculinization in domesticated zebrafish is family-specific and yields a set of different gonadal transcriptomes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 114 (6). E941-E950.

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Understanding environmental influences on sex ratios is important for the study of the evolution of sex-determining mechanisms and for evaluating the effects of global warming and chemical pollution. Fishes exhibit sexual plasticity, but the underlying mechanisms of environmental effects on their reproduction are unclear even in the well-established teleost research model, the zebrafish. Here we established the conditions to study the effects of elevated temperature on zebrafish sex. We showed that sex ratio response to elevated temperature is family-specific and typically leads to masculinization (female-to-male sex reversal), resulting in neomales. These results uncovered genotype-by-environment interactions that support a polygenic sex determination system in domesticated (laboratory) zebrafish. We found that some heat-treated fish had gene expression profiles similar to untreated controls of the same sex, indicating that they were resistant to thermal effects. Further, most neomales had gonadal transcriptomes similar to that of regular males. Strikingly, we discovered heat-treated females that displayed a normal ovarian phenotype but with a “male-like” gonadal transcriptome. Such major transcriptomic reprogramming with preserved organ structure has never been reported. Juveniles were also found to have a male-like transcriptome shortly after exposure to heat. These findings were validated by analyzing the expression of genes and signaling pathways associated with sex differentiation. Our results revealed a lasting thermal effect on zebrafish gonads, suggesting new avenues for detection of functional consequences of elevated temperature in natural fish populations in a global warming scenario.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Centre for Comparative Genomics
Publisher: National Academy of Sciences
Copyright: © 2017 National Academy of Sciences
United Nations SDGs: Goal 14: Life Below Water
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