A modern general theory of sex determination and sexual differentiation identifies the factors that cause sexual bias in gene networks, leading to sex differences in physiology and disease. The primary sex-biasing factors are those encoded on the sex chromosomes that are inherently different in the male and female zygote. These factors, and downstream factors such as gonadal hormones, act directly on tissues to produce sex differences, and to antagonize each other to reduce sex differences. Recent study of mouse models such as the Four Core Genotypes has begun to distinguish between direct effects of sex chromosome complement (XX vs. XY) and hormonal effects. Several lines of evidence implicate epigenetic processes in the control of sex differences, although a great deal of more information is needed about sex differences in the epigenome.
sex chromosome; Y chromosome; X chromosome; Four Core Genotypes; sexome; gene networks; hormones
The classic model of sex determination in mammals states that the sex of the individual is determined by the type of gonad that develops, which in turn determines the gonadal hormonal milieu that creates sex differences outside of the gonads. However, XX and XY cells are intrinsically different because of the cell-autonomous sex-biasing action of X and Y genes. Recent studies of mice, in which sex chromosome complement is independent of gonadal sex, reveal that sex chromosome complement has strong effects contributing to sex differences in phenotypes such as metabolism. Adult mice with two X chromosomes (relative to mice with one X chromosome) show dramatically greater increases in body weight and adiposity after gonadectomy, irrespective of their gonadal sex. When fed a high fat diet, XX mice develop striking hyperinsulinemia and fatty liver, relative to XY mice. The sex chromosome effects are modulated by the presence of gonadal hormones, indicating an interaction of the sex-biasing effects of gonadal hormones and sex chromosome genes. Other cell-autonomous sex chromosome effects are detected in mice in many phenotypes. Birds (relative to eutherian mammals) are expected to show more widespread cell-autonomous sex determination in non-gonadal tissues, because of ineffective sex chromosome dosage compensation mechanisms.
sex chromosome; sex determination; X chromosome; Y chromosome; Z chromosome; W chromosome; sexual differentiation; androgens; estrogens
In recent years, increasing evidence suggests that sex differences in the phenotype of all tissues is influenced by the inequality of effects of sex chromosome genes in the two sexes. In birds, genes on the Z chromosome are not well dosage compensated, so that most Z genes are expressed higher in ZZ male cells than in ZW female cells. The sex difference in expression of Z and W genes is likely to cause sex differences within cells, in addition to the sex differences caused by different levels of testicular and ovarian hormones. The sexual imbalance in cell physiology has implications for aviculture and novel developments in the poultry industry.
sex difference; sex determination; Z chromosome; W chromosome; gonads
The 1959 publication of the paper by Phoenix et al. was a major turning point in the study of sexual differentiation of the brain. That study showed that sex differences in behavior, and by extension in the brain, were permanently sexually differentiated by testosterone, a testicular secretion, during an early critical period of development. The study placed the brain together in a class with other major sexually dimorphic tissues (external genitalia and genital tracts), and proposed an integrated hormonal theory of sexual differentiation for all of these non-gonadal tissues. Since 1959, the organizational-activational theory has been amended but survives as a central concept that explains many sex differences in phenotype, in diverse tissues and at all levels of analysis from the molecular to the behavioral. In the last two decades, however, sex differences have been found that are not explained by such gonadal hormonal effects, but rather because of the primary action of genes encoded on the sex chromosomes. To integrate the classic organizational and activational effects with the more recently discovered sex chromosome effects, we propose a unified theory of sexual differentiation that applies to all mammalian tissues.
testosterone; estradiol; organizational; activational; sex chromosome; X chromosome; Y chromosome; sexual differentiation; sex difference
The 20th century theory of mammalian sex determination states that the embryo is sexually indifferent until the differentiation of gonads, after which sex differences in phenotype are caused by differential effects of gonadal hormones. That theory is inadequate because some sex differences precede differentiation of the gonads and/or are determined by non-gonadal effects of the sexual inequality in number and type of sex chromosomes. A general theory of sex determination is proposed, which recognizes multiple parallel primary sex-determining pathways initiated by genes or factors encoded by the sex chromosomes. The separate sex-specific pathways interact to synergize with or antagonize each other, enhancing or reducing sex differences in phenotype.
Females and males differ in physiology and in the incidence and progression of diseases. The sex-biased proximate factors causing sex differences in phenotype include direct effects of gonadal hormones and of genes represented unequally in the genome because of their X- or Y-linkage. Novel systems approaches have begun to assess the magnitude and character of sex differences in organization of gene networks on a genome-wide scale. These studies identify functionally related modules of genes that are co-expressed differently in males and females, and sites in the genome that regulate gene networks in a sex-specific manner. The measurement of the aggregate behavior of genes uncovers novel sex differences that can be related more effectively to susceptibility to disease.
The biological basis for sex differences in brain function and disease susceptibility is poorly understood. Examining the role of gonadal hormones in brain sexual differentiation may provide important information about sex differences in neural health and development. Permanent masculinization of brain structure, function, and disease is induced by testosterone prenatally in males, but the possible mediation of these effects by long-term changes in the epigenome is poorly understood.
We investigated the organizational effects of testosterone on the DNA methylome and transcriptome in two sexually dimorphic forebrain regions—the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis/preoptic area and the striatum. To study the contribution of testosterone to both the establishment and persistence of sex differences in DNA methylation, we performed genome-wide surveys in male, female, and female mice given testosterone on the day of birth. Methylation was assessed during the perinatal window for testosterone's organizational effects and in adulthood.
The short-term effect of testosterone exposure was relatively modest. However, in adult animals the number of genes whose methylation was altered had increased by 20-fold. Furthermore, we found that in adulthood, methylation at a substantial number of sexually dimorphic CpG sites was masculinized in response to neonatal testosterone exposure. Consistent with this, testosterone's effect on gene expression in the striatum was more apparent in adulthood.
Taken together, our data imply that the organizational effects of testosterone on the brain methylome and transcriptome are dramatic and late-emerging. Our findings offer important insights into the long-term molecular effects of early-life hormonal exposure.
Brain sexual differentiation; Epigenetic modifications; DNA methylation; Testosterone; Organizational effects
In animal studies of nociception, females are often more sensitive to painful stimuli, whereas males are often more sensitive to analgesia induced by μ agonists. Sex differences are found even at birth, and in adulthood are likely caused, at least in part, by differences in levels of gonadal hormones. Here we investigate nociception and analgesia in neonatal mice, and assess the contribution of the direct action of sex chromosome genes in hotplate and tail withdrawal tests. We used the four core genotypes mouse model, in which gonadal sex is independent of the complement of sex chromosomes (XX vs. XY). Mice were tested at baseline and then injected with μ-opioid agonist morphine (10mg/kg), or with the κ-opioid agonist U50,488H (U50, 12.5mg/Kg) with or without the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, MK-801 (0.1mg/kg). On the day of birth, XX mice showed faster baseline latencies than XY in tail withdrawal, irrespective of their gonadal type. Gonadal males showed greater effects of morphine than gonadal females in the hotplate test, irrespective of their sex chromosome complement. U50 and morphine were both effective analgesics in both tests, but MK-801 did not block the U50 effect. The results suggest that sex chromosome complement and gonadal secretions both contribute to sex differences in nociception and analgesia by the day of birth.
Perspective: Sex differences in pain may stem not only from the action of gonadal hormones on pain circuits, but from the sex-specific action of X and Y genes. Identification of sex chromosome genes causing sex differences could contribute to better pain therapy in females and males.
pain; sex difference; hotplate; tail withdrawal; sex chromosomes; neonate
We tested the role of sex chromosome complement and gonadal hormones in sex differences in several different paradigms measuring nociception and opioid analgesia using “four core genotypes” C57BL/6J mice. The genotypes include XX and XY gonadal males, and XX and XY gonadal females. Adult mice were gonadectomized and tested 3–4 weeks later, so that differences between sexes (mice with testes vs. ovaries) were attributable mainly to organizational effects of gonadal hormones, whereas differences between XX and XY mice were attributable to their complement of sex chromosomes. In experiment 1 (hotplate test of acute morphine analgesia), XX mice of both gonadal sexes had significantly shorter hotplate baseline latencies prior to morphine than XY mice. In experiment 2, (test of development of tolerance to morphine), mice were injected twice daily with 10mg/kg morphine or saline for 6 days. Saline or the competitive NMDA antagonist CPP [3-]2-carboxypiperazin-4yl)propyl-1-phospionic acid] (10mg/kg) was co-injected. On day 7, mice were tested for hotplate latencies before and after administration of a challenge dose of morphine (10mg/kg). XX mice showed shorter hotplate latencies than XY mice at baseline, and the XX-XY difference was greater following morphine. In experiment 3, mice were injected with morphine (10mg/Kg) or saline,15 minutes before intraplantar injection of formalin (5%/25µl). XX mice licked their hindpaw more than XY mice within 5 minutes of formalin injection. The results indicate that X- or Y-linked genes have direct effects, not mediated by gonadal secretions, on sex differences in two different types of acute nociception.
X chromosome; Y chromosome; pain; sex difference; hotplate; sex chromosomes
XX and XY cells have a different number of X and Y genes. These differences in their genomes cause sex differences in the functions of cells, both in the gonads and in non-gonadal tissues. This review discusses mouse models that have shed light on these direct genetic effects of sex chromosomes that cause sex differences in physiology. Because many sex differences in tissues are caused by different effects of male and female gonadal hormones, it is important to attempt to discriminate between direct genetic and hormonal effects. Numerous mouse models exist in which the number of X or Y genes is manipulated, to observe the effects on phenotype. In two models, the Afour core genotypes@ model and SF1 knockout gonadless mice, it has been possible to detect sex chromosome effects that are not explained by group differences in gonadal hormones. Moreover, mouse models are available to determine whether the sex chromosome effects are caused by X or Y genes.
Klinefelter syndrome (KS), caused by XXY karyotype, is characterized by low testosterone, infertility, cognitive deficits, and increased prevalence of health problems including obesity and diabetes. It has been difficult to separate direct genetic effects from hormonal effects in human studies or in mouse models of KS because low testosterone levels are confounded with sex chromosome complement.
In this study, we present the Sex Chromosome Trisomy (SCT) mouse model that produces XXY, XYY, XY, and XX mice in the same litters, each genotype with either testes or ovaries. The independence of sex chromosome complement and gonadal type allows for improved recognition of sex chromosome effects that are not dependent on levels of gonadal hormones. All mice were gonadectomized and treated with testosterone for 3 weeks. Body weight, body composition, and motor function were measured.
Before hormonal manipulation, XXY mice of both sexes had significantly greater body weight and relative fat mass compared to XY mice. After gonadectomy and testosterone replacement, XXY mice (both sexes) still had significantly greater body weight and relative fat mass, but less relative lean mass compared to XY mice. Liver, gonadal fat pad, and inguinal fat pad weights were also higher in XXY mice, independent of gonadal sex. In several of these measures, XX mice also differed from XY mice, and gonadal males and females differed significantly on almost every metabolic measure. The sex chromosome effects (except for testis size) were also seen in gonadally female mice before and after ovariectomy and testosterone treatment, indicating that they do not reflect group differences in levels of testicular secretions. XYY mice were similar to XY mice on body weight and metabolic variables but performed worse on motor tasks compared to other groups.
We find that the new SCT mouse model for XXY and XYY recapitulates features found in humans with these aneuploidies. We illustrate that this model has significant promise for unveiling the role of genetic effects compared to hormonal effects in these syndromes, because many phenotypes are different in XXY vs. XY gonadal female mice which have never been exposed to testicular secretions.
Klinefelter; Sex chromosome trisomy; XXY; XYY; Mouse; X chromosome; Y chromosome; Body weight; Obesity
Obesity and associated metabolic diseases are sexually dimorphic. To provide better diagnosis and treatment for both sexes, it is of interest to identify the factors that underlie male/female differences in obesity. Traditionally, sexual dimorphism has been attributed to effects of gonadal hormones, which influence numerous metabolic processes. However, the XX/XY sex chromosome complement is an additional factor that may play a role. Recent data using the four core genotypes mouse model have revealed that sex chromosome complement—independently from gonadal sex—plays a role in adiposity, feeding behavior, fatty liver and glucose homeostasis. Potential mechanisms for the effects of sex chromosome complement include differential gene dosage from X chromosome genes that escape inactivation, and distinct genomic imprints on X chromosomes inherited from maternal or paternal parents. Here we review recent data in mice and humans concerning the potential impact of sex chromosome complement on obesity and metabolic disease.
metabolic disease; sex differences; obesity; food intake; fatty liver; circadian rhythm
Sexual dimorphism in body weight, fat distribution, and metabolic disease has been attributed largely to differential effects of male and female gonadal hormones. Here, we report that the number of X chromosomes within cells also contributes to these sex differences. We employed a unique mouse model, known as the “four core genotypes,” to distinguish between effects of gonadal sex (testes or ovaries) and sex chromosomes (XX or XY). With this model, we produced gonadal male and female mice carrying XX or XY sex chromosome complements. Mice were gonadectomized to remove the acute effects of gonadal hormones and to uncover effects of sex chromosome complement on obesity. Mice with XX sex chromosomes (relative to XY), regardless of their type of gonad, had up to 2-fold increased adiposity and greater food intake during daylight hours, when mice are normally inactive. Mice with two X chromosomes also had accelerated weight gain on a high fat diet and developed fatty liver and elevated lipid and insulin levels. Further genetic studies with mice carrying XO and XXY chromosome complements revealed that the differences between XX and XY mice are attributable to dosage of the X chromosome, rather than effects of the Y chromosome. A subset of genes that escape X chromosome inactivation exhibited higher expression levels in adipose tissue and liver of XX compared to XY mice, and may contribute to the sex differences in obesity. Overall, our study is the first to identify sex chromosome complement, a factor distinguishing all male and female cells, as a cause of sex differences in obesity and metabolism.
Differences exist between men and women in the development of obesity and related metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Previous studies have focused on the sex-biasing role of hormones produced by male and female gonads, but these cannot account fully for the sex differences in metabolism. We discovered that removal of the gonads uncovers an important genetic determinant of sex differences in obesity—the presence of XX or XY sex chromosomes. We used a novel mouse model to tease apart the effects of male and female gonads from the effects of XX or XY chromosomes. Mice with XX sex chromosomes (relative to XY), regardless of their type of gonad, had increased body fat and ate more food during the sleep period. Mice with two X chromosomes also had accelerated weight gain, fatty liver, and hyperinsulinemia on a high fat diet. The higher expression levels of a subset of genes on the X chromosome that escape inactivation may influence adiposity and metabolic disease. The effect of X chromosome genes is present throughout life, but may become particularly significant with increases in longevity and extension of the period spent with reduced gonadal hormone levels.
The “four core genotypes” (FCG) model comprises mice in which sex chromosome complement (XX vs. XY) is unrelated to the animal's gonadal sex. The four genotypes are XX gonadal males or females, and XY gonadal males or females. The model allows one to measure (1) the differences in phenotypes caused by sex chromosome complement (XX vs. XY), (2) the differential effects of ovarian and testicular secretions, and (3) the interactive effects of (1) and (2). Thus, the FCG model provides new information regarding the origins of sex differences in phenotype that has not been available from studies that manipulate gonadal hormone levels in normal XY males and XX females. Studies of the FCG model have uncovered XX vs. XY differences in behaviors (aggression, parenting, habit formation, nociception, social interactions), gene expression (septal vasopressin), and susceptibility to disease (neural tube closure and autoimmune disease) not mediated by gonadal hormones. Some sex chromosome effects are mediated by sex differences in dose of X genes or their parental imprint. Future studies will identify the genes involved and their mechanisms of action.
Sex chromosome; X chromosome; Y chromosome; Sex differences; Sexual differentiation; Nociception; Neural tube closure; Autoimmune disease; Addiction
The zebra finch is an important model organism in several fields1,2 with unique relevance to human neuroscience3,4. Like other songbirds, the zebra finch communicates through learned vocalizations, an ability otherwise documented only in humans and a few other animals and lacking in the chicken5—the only bird with a sequenced genome until now6. Here we present a structural, functional and comparative analysis of the genome sequence of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), which is a songbird belonging to the large avian order Passeriformes7. We find that the overall structures of the genomes are similar in zebra finch and chicken, but they differ in many intrachromosomal rearrangements, lineage-specific gene family expansions, the number of long-terminal-repeat-based retrotransposons, and mechanisms of sex chromosome dosage compensation. We show that song behaviour engages gene regulatory networks in the zebra finch brain, altering the expression of long non-coding RNAs, microRNAs, transcription factors and their targets. We also show evidence for rapid molecular evolution in the songbird lineage of genes that are regulated during song experience. These results indicate an active involvement of the genome in neural processes underlying vocal communication and identify potential genetic substrates for the evolution and regulation of this behaviour.
In the twentieth century, the dominant model of sexual differentiation stated that genetic sex (XX versus XY) causes differentiation of the gonads, which then secrete gonadal hormones that act directly on tissues to induce sex differences in function. This serial model of sexual differentiation was simple, unifying and seductive. Recent evidence, however, indicates that the linear model is incorrect and that sex differences arise in response to diverse sex-specific signals originating from inherent differences in the genome and involve cellular mechanisms that are specific to individual tissues or brain regions. Moreover, sex-specific effects of the environment reciprocally affect biology, sometimes profoundly, and must therefore be integrated into a realistic model of sexual differentiation. A more appropriate model is a parallel-interactive model that encompasses the roles of multiple molecular signals and pathways that differentiate males and females, including synergistic and compensatory interactions among pathways and an important role for the environment.
Both coxsackievirus B3 (CVB3) and influenza A virus (IAV; H1N1) produce sexually dimorphic infections in C57BL/6 mice. Gonadal steroids can modulate sex differences in response to both viruses. Here, the effect of sex chromosomal complement in response to viral infection was evaluated using four core genotypes (FCG) mice, where the Sry gene is deleted from the Y chromosome, and in some mice is inserted into an autosomal chromosome. This results in four genotypes: XX or XY gonadal females (XXF and XYF), and XX or XY gonadal males (XXM and XYM). The FCG model permits evaluation of the impact of the sex chromosome complement independent of the gonadal phenotype.
Wild-type (WT) male and female C57BL/6 mice were assigned to remain intact or be gonadectomized (Gdx) and all FCG mice on a C57BL/6 background were Gdx. Mice were infected with either CVB3 or mouse-adapted IAV, A/Puerto Rico/8/1934 (PR8), and monitored for changes in immunity, virus titers, morbidity, or mortality.
In CVB3 infection, mortality was increased in WT males compared to females and males developed more severe cardiac inflammation. Gonadectomy suppressed male, but increased female, susceptibility to CVB3. Infection with IAV resulted in greater morbidity and mortality in WT females compared with males and this sex difference was significantly reduced by gonadectomy of male and female mice. In Gdx FCG mice infected with CVB3, XY mice were less susceptible than XX mice. Protection correlated with increased CD4+ forkhead box P3 (FoxP3)+ T regulatory (Treg) cell activation in these animals. Neither CD4+ interferon (IFN)γ (T helper 1 (Th1)) nor CD4+ interleukin (IL)-4+ (Th2) responses differed among the FCG mice during CVB3 infection. Infection of Gdx FCG mice revealed no effect of sex chromosome complement on morbidity or mortality following IAV infection.
These studies indicate that sex chromosome complement can influence pathogenicity of some, but not all, viruses.
Sex differences in mean arterial pressure (MAP) are reported in many experimental models of hypertension and are ascribed to gonadal sex based of studies showing gonadectomy and gonadal hormone replacement affect MAP. The interpretation of these studies, however, has been confounded by differences in the sex chromosome complement (XX vs. XY). To investigate the sex chromosome complement independently of gonadal sex, we used the four core genotype (FCG) mouse model in which gonadal sex is separated from the sex chromosome complement enabling comparisons among XX and XY females and XX and XY males. We found that in the gonadectomized (GDX) FCG, MAP after 2 weeks of angiotensin II (Ang II) infusion (200 ng/kg/min) was greater in XX than XY [MAP (mm Hg): GDX-XX-Female, 148±4.5; GDX-XY-Female, 133±4.4; GDX-XX-Male, 149±9.4; GDX-XY-Male, 138±5.5; p<0.03, XX vs XY; n=8-9/grp]. In contrast, no sex chromosome effects (SCE) were found on heart rate (HR) body weight (BW) or plasma Ang II 2 weeks after Ang II infusion. This study suggests that in addition to effects of gonadal hormones on blood pressure, X- or Y-linked genes, parental imprinting or X mosaicism contribute to sex differences in hypertension. Furthermore, the finding that MAP was greater in XX mice compared to XY mice in the GDX state suggests adverse SCE encoded within the XX sex chromosome complement could contribute to hypertension in women with ovarian hormone deficiency such as postmenopausal women and women with premature ovarian failure.
hypertension; angiotensin II; sex differences; sex chromosomes; four core genotype
The zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) has been intensively studied in many research fields including neuroscience, behavioral neurobiology, and evolution of the genome. Although numerous molecular and genomic resources are available for this model species, immortalized cell lines have been lacking. We have established two zebra finch cell lines derived from spontaneous tumors. ZFTMA is a tetraploid female cell line and G266 as a diploid male cell line. These first zebra finch cell lines should facilitate development of research on this model species.
Zebra finch; Cell line; Immortalized; Male; Female
We describe a karyotypic polymorphism on the zebra finch Z chromosome. This polymorphism was discovered because of a difference in the position of the centromere and because it occurs at varying frequencies in domesticated colonies in the USA and Germany and among two zebra finch subspecies. Using DNA fluorescent in situ hybridization to map specific Z genes and measurements of DNA replication, we show that this polymorphism is the result of a large pericentric inversion involving the majority of the chromosome. We sequenced a likely breakpoint for the inversion and found many repetitive sequences. Around the breakpoint, there are numerous repetitive sequences and several copies of PAK3 (p21-activated kinase 3)-related sequences (PAK3Z) which showed testes-specific expression by RT-PCR. Our findings further suggest that the sequenced genome of the zebra finch may be derived from a male heterozygote for the Z chromosome polymorphism. This finding, in combination with regional differences in the frequency of the polymorphism, has important consequences for future studies using zebra finches.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00412-010-0308-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Differences between men and women in alcohol abuse prevalence have long been attributed to social and hormonal factors. It is, however, becoming apparent that sex differences in substance dependence are also influenced by genetic factors. Using a four core genotype mouse model that enables dissociation of chromosomal and gonadal sex, we show that habitual responding for alcohol reinforcement is mediated by sex chromosome complement independent of gonadal phenotype. After moderate instrumental training, chromosomal male (XY) mice became insensitive to outcome devaluation, indicating habitual responding. Chromosomal female (XX) mice remained sensitive to outcome devaluation, signifying goal-directed behavior. There was no effect of gonadal phenotype on habitual responding. Conversely, alcohol drinking was predicted by gonadal phenotype independent of sex chromosome complement. These results indicate that different alcoholism-related behaviors are determined independently by gonadal and chromosomal sex.
Habit; sex differences; alcohol use and dependence
Angotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) is a newly discovered monocarboxypeptidase that counteracts the vasoconstrictor effects of angiotensin II (Ang II) by converting Ang II to Ang-(1-7) in the kidney and other tissues.
ACE2 activity from renal homogenates was investigated by using the fluorogenic peptide substrate Mca-YVADAPK(Dnp)-OH, where Mca is (7-methoxycoumarin-4-yl)-acetyl and Dnp is 2,4-dinitrophenyl.
We found that ACE2 activity expressed in relative fluorescence units (RFU) in the MF1 mouse is higher in the male (M) compared to the female (F) kidney [ACE2 (RFU/min/μg protein): M 18.1 ± 1.0 versus F 11.1 ± 0.39; P < 0.0001; n = 6]. Substrate concentration curves revealed that the higher ACE2 activity in the male was due to increased ACE2 enzyme velocity (Vmax) rather than increased substrate affinity (Km). We used the four core genotypes mouse model in which gonadal sex (ovaries versus testes) is separated from the sex chromosome complement enabling comparisons among XX and XY gonadal females and XX and XY gonadal males. Renal ACE2 activity was greater in the male than the female kidney, regardless of the sex chromosome complement [ACE2 (RFU/min/μg protein): intact-XX-F, 7.59 ± 0.37; intact-XY-F, 7.43 ± 0.53; intact-XX-M, 12.1 ± 0.62; intact-XY-M, 12.7 ± 1.5; n = 4-6/group; P < 0.0001, F versus M, by two-way ANOVA]. Enzyme activity was increased in gonadectomized (GDX) female mice regardless of the sex chromosome complement whereas no effect of gonadectomy was observed in the males [ACE2 (RFU/min/μg protein): GDX-XX-F, 12.4 ± 1.2; GDX-XY-F, 11.1 ± 0.76; GDX-XX-M, 13.2 ± 0.97; GDX-XY-M, 11.6 ± 0.81; n = 6/group]. 17β-oestradiol (E2) treatment of GDX mice resulted in ACE2 activity that was only 40% of the activity found in the GDX mice, regardless of their being male or female, and was independent of the sex chromosome complement [ACE2 (RFU/min/μg protein): GDX+E2-XX-F, 5.56 ± 1.0; GDX+E2-XY-F, 4.60 ± 0.52; GDX+E2-XX-M, 5.35 ± 0.70; GDX+E2-XY-M, 5.12 ± 0.47; n = 6/group].
Our findings suggest sex differences in renal ACE2 activity in intact mice are due, at least in part, to the presence of E2 in the ovarian hormone milieu and not to the testicular milieu or to differences in sex chromosome dosage (2X versus 1X; 0Y versus 1Y). E2 regulation of renal ACE2 has particular implications for women across their life span since this hormone changes radically during puberty, pregnancy and menopause.
Steroids affect many tissues, including the brain. In the zebra finch, the estrogenic steroid estradiol (E2) is especially effective at promoting growth of the neural circuit specialized for song. In this species, only the males sing and they have a much larger and more interconnected song circuit than females. Thus, it was surprising that the gene for 17β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 4 (HSD17B4), an enzyme that converts E2 to a less potent estrogen, had been mapped to the Z sex chromosome. As a consequence, it was likely that HSD17B4 was differentially expressed in males (ZZ) and females (ZW) because dosage compensation of Z chromosome genes is incomplete in birds. If a higher abundance of HSD17B4 mRNA in males than females was translated into functional enzyme in the brain, then contrary to expectation, males could produce less E2 in their brains than females.
Here, we used molecular and biochemical techniques to confirm the HSD17B4 Z chromosome location in the zebra finch and to determine that HSD17B4 mRNA and activity were detectable in the early developing and adult brain. As expected, HSD17B4 mRNA expression levels were higher in males compared to females. This provides further evidence of the incomplete Z chromosome inactivation mechanisms in birds. We detected HSD17B4 mRNA in regions that suggested a role for this enzyme in the early organization and adult function of song nuclei. We did not, however, detect significant sex differences in HSD17B4 activity levels in the adult brain.
Our results demonstrate that the HSD17B4 gene is expressed and active in the zebra finch brain as an E2 metabolizing enzyme, but that dosage compensation of this Z-linked gene may occur via post-transcriptional mechanisms.