In Nile tilapia, sex-specific expression of foxl2 and cyp19a1a in XX gonads and dmrt1 in XY gonads at 5–6 days after hatching (dah) is critical for differentiation of the gonads into either ovaries or testes. The factors triggering sexually dimorphic expression of these genes are unknown, and whether the gonadotropin hormones are involved in early gonadal sex differentiation of the Nile tilapia has been unclear. In the present study, we determined the precise timing of expression of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) in the pituitary and that of their receptors (fshra and lhcgrbb) in the undifferentiated gonad in both XX and XY tilapia fry by quantitative RT-PCR and immunohistochemical analysis. Expression of fshb mRNA and Fsh protein in the pituitary was detected from the first sampling day (3 dah) to 25 dah in both XX and XY tilapia larvae without sexual dimorphism and increased gradually after 25 dah in the pituitary. fshra mRNA was expressed beginning 5 dah and was present at significantly higher levels in XX gonads than in the XY gonads at 6–25 dah. These results indicate that the level of Fsh protein in the pituitary was not critical for differentiation of gonads into ovaries or testes, but the expression level of its receptor, fshra, in undifferentiated gonads appeared to be involved in determining gonadal sexual differentiation. Based on these observations, it is likely that in XX gonads, up-regulation of fshra may be necessary to induce cyp19a1a expression, which stimulates estradiol-17beta (E2) production and subsequent ovarian differentiation. On the other hand, lhb mRNA was not detected until 25 dah in the pituitaries of both sexes, and sexual dimorphism in lhcgrbb mRNA levels appeared later (10–25 dah) than that of fshra in the gonads, indicating the limited role of LH and lhcgrbb in gonadal differentiation of the Nile tilapia.
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Vol. 87 • No. 5