The honeycomb grouper, Epinephelus merra, is a protogynous hermaphrodite fish. Sex steroid hormones play key roles in sex change of this species. A significant drop in endogenous estradiol- 17β (E2) levels alone triggers female-to–male sex change, and the subsequent elevation of 11-ketotestosterone (11KT) levels correlates with the progression of spermatogenesis. To elucidate the role of an androgen in sex change, we attempted to induce female-to–male sex change by exogenous 11KT treatments. The 75-day 11KT treatment caused 100% masculinization of pre-spawning females. Ovaries of the control (vehicle-treated) fish had oocytes at various stages of oogenesis, while the gonads of the 11KT-treated fish had transformed into testes; these contained spermatogenic germ cells at various stages, including an accumulation of spermatozoa in the sperm duct. In the sex-changed fish, plasma levels of E2 were significantly low, while both testosterone (T) and 11KT were significantly increased. Our results suggest that 11KT plays an important role in sex change in the honeycomb grouper. Whether the mechanism of 11KT-induced female-to–male sex change acts through direct stimulation of spermatogenesis in the ovary or via the inhibition of estrogen synthesis remains to be clarified.
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