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.
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.
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.
To gauge the sensitivity of the female zebra finch song system to estradiol (E2), we used subcutaneous implants to administer various doses of E2 to hatchling female zebra finches. Four different doses of E2 were administered: 50, 15, 5 and 0 μg via subcutaneous silicon “ropes” at hatching, and the brains were examined in adulthood. Further, we examined whether masculinization was all-or-none once a threshold was reached or if the morphology of the song system would show a graded response to the various doses of E2. Finally, we asked if the various dependent measures—volume of song nuclei, neuron size, and neuron number—would show differential sensitivity to E2.
Fifteen micrograms was sufficient to masculinize many aspects of the song system and was often as effective as 50 μg, causing a dramatic difference relative to the 0 μg group. Different aspects of the song system seemed differentially sensitive to the effects of E2: volumes of song control nuclei, the size of RA neurons, and the number of HVC neurons were significantly masculinized by 15 μg E2, but the number of RA neurons and HVC and lMAN soma sizes required 50 μg. The results suggest that several developmental processes are influenced by E2, possibly because of multiple sites of action or multiple processes that respond to E2.
Estradiol; songbird; dose-response; zebra finch; masculinization; steroid hormone
Most avian Z genes are expressed more highly in ZZ males than ZW females, suggesting that chromosome-wide mechanisms of dosage compensation have not evolved. Nevertheless, a small percentage of Z genes are expressed at similar levels in males and females, an indication that a yet unidentified mechanism compensates for the sex difference in copy number. Primary DNA sequences are thought to have a role in determining chromosome gene inactivation status on the mammalian X chromosome. However, it is currently unknown whether primary DNA sequences also mediate chicken Z gene compensation status. Using a combination of chicken DNA sequences and Z gene compensation profiles of 310 genes, we explored the relationship between Z gene compensation status and primary DNA sequence features. Statistical analysis of different Z chromosomal features revealed that long interspersed nuclear elements (LINEs) and CpG islands are enriched on the Z chromosome compared with 329 other DNA features. Linear support vector machine (SVM) classifiers, using primary DNA sequences, correctly predict the Z compensation status for >60% of all Z-linked genes. CpG islands appear to be the most accurate classifier and alone can correctly predict compensation of 63% of Z genes. We also show that LINE CR1 elements are enriched 2.7-fold on the chicken Z chromosome compared with autosomes and that chicken chromosomal length is highly correlated with percentage LINE content. However, the position of LINE elements is not significantly associated with dosage compensation status of Z genes. We also find a trend for a higher proportion of CpG islands in the region of the Z chromosome with the fewest dosage-compensated genes compared with the region containing the greatest concentration of compensated genes. Comparison between chicken and platypus genomes shows that LINE elements are not enriched on sex chromosomes in platypus, indicating that LINE accumulation is not a feature of all sex chromosomes. Our results suggest that CpG islands are not randomly distributed on the Z chromosome and may influence Z gene dosage compensation status.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10577-009-9068-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
dosage compensation; Z chromosome; DNA sequence; LINEs; CpG; chicken; sex chromosome; X chromosome
The zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) germline-restricted chromosome (GRC) is the largest chromosome and has a unique system of transmission in germ cells. In the male, the GRC exists as a single heterochromatic chromosome in the germline and is eliminated from nuclei in late spermatogenesis. In the female, the GRC is bivalent and euchromatic and experiences recombination. These characteristics suggest a female-specific or female-beneficial function of the GRC. To shed light on the function of GRC, we cloned a portion of the GRC using random amplified polymorphic DNA–polymerase chain reaction and analyzed it using molecular genetic and cytogenetic methods. The GRC clone hybridized strongly to testis but not blood DNA in genomic Southern blots. In fluorescent in situ hybridization analysis on meiotic chromosomes from synaptonemal complex spreads, the probe showed hybridization across a large area of the GRC, suggesting that it contains repetitive sequences. We isolated a sequence homologous to the GRC from zebra finch chromosome 3 and a region of chicken chromosome 1 that is homologous to zebra finch chromosome 3; the phylogenetic analysis of these three sequences suggested that the GRC sequence and the zebra finch chromosome 3 sequence are most closely related. Thus, the GRC sequences likely originated from autosomal DNA and have evolved after the galliform–passeriform split. The present study provides a foundation for further study of the intriguing GRC.
Most autoimmune diseases are more common in women than in men. This may be caused by differences in sex hormones, sex chromosomes, or both. In this study, we determined if there was a contribution of sex chromosomes to sex differences in susceptibility to two immunologically distinct disease models, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) and pristane-induced lupus. Transgenic SJL mice were created to permit a comparison between XX and XY within a common gonadal type. Mice of the XX sex chromosome complement, as compared with XY, demonstrated greater susceptibility to both EAE and lupus. This is the first evidence that the XX sex chromosome complement, as compared with XY, confers greater susceptibility to autoimmune disease.
The molecular mechanisms responsible for the sexual differentiation of the zebra finch song system remain mysterious. Androgen receptors are expressed in a sexually dimorphic fashion in the zebra finches song system: males have more cells expressing androgen receptors, and this sex difference appears very early in development (day 9 posthatch). Estrogen administration to hatchling females up-regulates androgen receptor expression in their song system and profoundly masculinizes their song system’s morphology. Co-administering flutamide, an androgen-receptor blocker, with estrogen impedes estrogen’s masculinizing effects on the song system, suggesting that androgens are required for masculine development.
Accordingly, to investigate further the role of androgens in the sexual differentiation of the zebra finch song system, we sought to block androgen activity in males by administering large, sustained doses of flutamide from just before androgen receptors are expressed in the song system (day 7) through to the day of sacrifice (day 61–63).
Flutamide profoundly reduced the size of the testes, demonstrating that this drug and mode of administration could have a large impact on tissues. In contrast, flutamide had only a minor impact on the song system: the number of RA neurons was slightly reduced, and the corrected HVC volume showed a trend toward demasculinization. Other brain measures (uncorrected HVC, and corrected and uncorrected volumes of Area X, lMAN, RA, and Rotundus; neuron size in lMAN, HVC, and RA; and number of HVC and LMAN neurons) were not significantly affected. The present results do not support an important role for androgen in masculinizing the song circuit after posthatch day 7.
Songbird; antiandrogen; sex differences; flutamide; zebra finch
Songbirds hold great promise for biomedical, environmental and evolutionary research. A complete draft sequence of the zebra finch genome is imminent, yet a need remains for application of genomic resources within a research community traditionally focused on ethology and neurobiological methods. In response, we developed a core set of genomic tools and a novel collaborative strategy to probe gene expression in diverse songbird species and natural contexts.
We end-sequenced cDNAs from zebra finch brain and incorporated additional sequences from community sources into a database of 86,784 high quality reads. These assembled into 31,658 non-redundant contigs and singletons, which we annotated via BLAST search of chicken and human databases. The results are publicly available in the ESTIMA:Songbird database. We produced a spotted cDNA microarray with 20,160 addresses representing 17,214 non-redundant products of an estimated 11,500–15,000 genes, validating it by analysis of immediate-early gene (zenk) gene activation following song exposure and by demonstrating effective cross hybridization to genomic DNAs of other songbird species in the Passerida Parvorder. Our assembly was also used in the design of the "Lund-zfa" Affymetrix array representing ~22,000 non-redundant sequences. When the two arrays were hybridized to cDNAs from the same set of male and female zebra finch brain samples, both arrays detected a common set of regulated transcripts with a Pearson correlation coefficient of 0.895. To stimulate use of these resources by the songbird research community and to maintain consistent technical standards, we devised a "Community Collaboration" mechanism whereby individual birdsong researchers develop experiments and provide tissues, but a single individual in the community is responsible for all RNA extractions, labelling and microarray hybridizations.
Immediately, these results set the foundation for a coordinated set of 25 planned experiments by 16 research groups probing fundamental links between genome, brain, evolution and behavior in songbirds. Energetic application of genomic resources to research using songbirds should help illuminate how complex neural and behavioral traits emerge and evolve.
Microarray data analysis revealed a cluster of well compensated genes in the MHM (male-hypermethylated) region on chicken chromosome Zp, whereas Zq is enriched in non-compensated genes. The non-coding MHM RNA may therefore play a role in dosage compensation in the female.
Most Z chromosome genes in birds are expressed at a higher level in ZZ males than in ZW females, and thus are relatively ineffectively dosage compensated. Some Z genes are compensated, however, by an unknown mechanism. Previous studies identified a non-coding RNA in the male hypermethylated (MHM) region, associated with sex-specific histone acetylation, which has been proposed to be involved in dosage compensation.
Using microarray mRNA expression analysis, we find that dosage compensated and non-compensated genes occur across the Z chromosome, but a cluster of compensated genes are found in the MHM region of chicken chromosome Zp, whereas Zq is enriched in non-compensated genes. The degree of dosage compensation among Z genes is predicted better by the level of expression of Z genes in males than in females, probably because of better compensation of genes with lower levels of expression. Compensated genes have different functional properties than non-compensated genes, suggesting that dosage compensation has evolved gene-by-gene according to selective pressures on each gene. The group of genes comprising the MHM region also resides on a primitive mammalian (platypus) sex chromosome and, thus, may represent an ancestral precursor to avian ZZ/ZW and monotreme XX/XY sex chromosome systems.
The aggregation of dosage compensated genes near the MHM locus may reflect a local sex- and chromosome-specific mechanism of dosage compensation, perhaps mediated by the MHM non-coding RNA.