The protandrous black porgy, Acanthopagrus schlegeli, has a striking life cycle with sex differentiation at the juvenile stage, mono-male development, and male-to-female sex change (with vitellogenic oocytes) at age 3 yr. In the present study, we investigated the possible roles of wnt4 in gonadal development in a nonmammalian model organism (protandrous black porgy), especially in relation to sex differentiation, ovarian growth, and sex change. Fish of various ages were treated with estradiol (E2) or aromatase inhibitor (AI) to determine whether manipulation of the hormonal environment had an effect on these processes. Furthermore, a natural sex change (≥2-yr-old fish) and a nonchemical method to induce an early sex change (≥1-yr-old fish) via the removal of testicular tissue were examined in this study. We present herein an integrative immunohistochemical, cellular, and molecular data set describing these phenomena. During gonadal sex differentiation, no increase in wnt4 expression was detected. A profile of increased wnt4 expression and decreased cyp19a1a expression was associated with ovarian growth (proliferation of oogonia and development of ovarian lamellae) in ≥1-yr-old fish. Both E2 and AI induced an increase in wnt4 transcripts and resulted in ovarian development in ≥0-yr-old and ≥1-yr-old fish. Increased wnt4 transcripts were found in ovarian tissue undergoing development from primary oocytes to vitellogenic oocytes during the natural sex change in ≥2-yr-old fish. Removal of testicular tissue in ≥1-yr-old fish resulted in successful early sex change (with vitellogenic oocytes) 6 mo after the excision. During the process of the early sex change (3 mo after testis excision), the fish ovary became active and had increased diameter of the primary oocytes; this was in accord with increased ovarian wnt4 expression but not sf1, foxl2, and genes in the steroidogenic pathway, including cyp19a1a. Wnt4 staining further confirmed the profile of wnt4 expression associated with ovarian development. The results of the present study suggest that wnt4 has important roles in late ovarian growth (e.g., oogonia proliferation and structure of ovarian lamellae) and the natural sex change (vitellogenic oocytes) in the protandrous black porgy.
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Vol. 81 • No. 6