In hermaphroditic fish, the ovotestis can respond to external stimuli so that only one type of gonadal tissue (either ovarian or testicular tissue) will remain reproductively active and the other will recede to a rudimentary stage. However, the molecular mechanism for sexual fate determination is still poorly understood in hermaphroditic fish. In the present study, we examined whether sexual fate determination with respect to testis development is due to differential expression of dmrt1. Expression of dmrt1 was limited to the spermatogonia-surrounding cells (Sertoli cells) throughout testis development. Testicular dmrt1 was differentially expressed in fish (black porgy [Acanthopagrus schlegeli Bleeker]) depending on if fish were destined to be female or male. Expression of dmrt1 in Sertoli cells did not require germ cell factors with busulfan treatment. To examine the role of dmrt1, we used virus-based RNA interference. Deficiency of dmrt1 resulted in a reduced number of germ cells in the testis and stimulated a male-to-female sex change. Higher serum luteinizing hormone levels were detected in 2 - to 3-yr-old male fish as compared to sex-changing female fish. Furthermore, we showed that fish treated in vivo with gonadotropin-releasing hormone (Gnrh) and fish treated in vitro with gonadotropin (Gth) had higher dmrt1 expression in the testis, suggesting that these endocrine factors may affect the male-to-female sex change. Therefore, our data suggest that dmrt1 plays a key role in initial testis differentiation and in later maintenance of male development. We show, to our knowledge for the first time, the functions of dmrt1 in hermaphroditic fish, which indicate that male-phase maintenance may be regulated by the brain-pituitary-gonadal axis via the Gnrh-Gth-Dmrt1 axis.
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Vol. 86 • No. 2