Gonadal steroid hormone receptors play a vital role in transforming ligand signals into gene expression. We have shown previously that gonads from wild-caught juvenile alligators express greater levels of estrogen receptor 1 (ESR1) than estrogen receptor 2 (ESR2). Furthermore, sexually dimorphic ESR2 mRNA expression (female > male) observed in animals from the reference site (Lake Woodruff, FL, USA) was lost in alligators from the contaminated Lake Apopka (FL, USA). We postulated that environmental contaminant exposure could influence gonadal steroid hormone receptor expression. Here, we address questions regarding gonadal estrogen and androgen receptor (AR) mRNA expression in 1-yr-old, laboratory-raised alligators. What are relative expression levels within gonads? Do these levels vary between sexes or incubation temperatures? Can contaminant exposure change these levels? We observed a similar pattern of expression (ESR1 > AR > ESR2) in ovary and testis. However, both incubation temperature and environment modulated expression. Males incubated at 33.5°C expressed greater AR levels than females incubated at 30°C; dimorphic expression was not observed in animals incubated at 32°C. Compared to Lake Woodruff alligators, Lake Apopka animals of both sexes showed lesser ESR2 mRNA expression levels. Employing cluster analyses, we integrated these receptor expression patterns with those of steroidogenic factors. Elevated ESR2 and CYP19A1 expressions were diagnostic of alligator ovary, whereas elevated HSD3B1, CYP11A1, and CYP17A1 expressions were indicative of testis. In contrast, AR, ESR1, and NR5A1 showed variable expressions that were not entirely associated with sex. These findings demonstrate that the mRNA expression of receptors required for steroid hormone signaling are modified by exposure to environmental factors, including temperature and contaminants.
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Vol. 82 • No. 1