Conservation of a sex-determining gene

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Vertebrates exhibit a surprising array of sex-determining mechanisms, including X- and Y-chromosome heterogametes in male mammals, Z- and W-chromosome hetero-gametes in female birds, and a temperature-dependent mechanism in many reptiles1. The Y-chromosome-linked SRY gene initiates male development in mammals2,3, but other vertebrates lack SRY and the genes controlling sex determination are largely unknown. Here we show that a gene implicated in human testis differentiation, DMRT1, has a gonad-specific and sexually dimorphic expression profile during embryogenesis in mammals, birds and a reptile (Alligator mississippiensis). Given the different sex-determining switches in these three groups, this gene must represent an ancient, conserved component of the ver-tebrate sex-determining pathway.

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Figure 1: Sexually dimorphic expression of DMRT1 in embryonic gonads.


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Smith, C., McClive, P., Western, P. et al. Conservation of a sex-determining gene. Nature 402, 601–602 (1999) doi:10.1038/45130

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