Genetic mechanism underlying sexual plasticity and its association with colour patterning in zebrafish (Danio rerio).

Shahrbanou Hosseini, Ngoc-Thuy Ha, Henner Simianer, Clemens Falker-Gieske, Bertram Brenig, Andre Franke, Gabriele Hörstgen-Schwark, Jens Tetens, Sebastian Herzog, Ahmad Reza Sharifi
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BMC genomics
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BACKGROUND:Elevated water temperature, as is expected through climate change, leads to masculinization in fish species with sexual plasticity, resulting in changes in population dynamics. These changes are one important ecological consequence, contributing to the risk of extinction in small and inbred fish populations under natural conditions, due to male-biased sex ratio. Here we investigated the effect of elevated water temperature during embryogenesis on sex ratio and sex-biased gene expression profiles between two different tissues, namely gonad and caudal fin of adult zebrafish males and females, to gain new insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying sex determination (SD) and colour patterning related to sexual attractiveness. RESULTS:Our study demonstrated sex ratio imbalances with 25.5% more males under high-temperature condition, resulting from gonadal masculinization. The result of transcriptome analysis showed a significantly upregulated expression of male SD genes (e.g. dmrt1, amh, cyp11c1 and sept8b) and downregulation of female SD genes (e.g. zp2.1, vtg1, cyp19a1a and bmp15) in male gonads compared to female gonads. Contrary to expectations, we found highly differential expression of colour pattern (CP) genes in the gonads, suggesting the 'neofunctionalisation' of those genes in the zebrafish reproduction system. However, in the caudal fin, no differential expression of CP genes was identified, suggesting the observed differences in colouration between males and females in adult fish may be due to post-transcriptional regulation of key enzymes involved in pigment synthesis and distribution. CONCLUSIONS:Our study demonstrates male-biased sex ratio under high temperature condition and support a polygenic SD (PSD) system in laboratory zebrafish. We identify a subset of pathways (tight junction, gap junction and apoptosis), enriched for SD and CP genes, which appear to be co-regulated in the same pathway, providing evidence for involvement of those genes in the regulation of phenotypic sexual dimorphism in zebrafish.