Cell-mass structures expressing the aromatase gene Cyp19a1 lead to ovarian cavities in Xenopus laevis.

PMID 25051437


The African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, has a ZZ/ZW-type sex-determination system. We previously reported that a W-linked gene, Dm-W, can determine development as a female. However, the mechanisms of early sex differentiation remain unclear. We used microarrays to screen for genes with sexually dimorphic expression in ZZ and ZW gonads during early sex differentiation in X laevis and found several steroidogenic genes. Importantly, the steroid 17α-hydroxylase gene Cyp17a1 and the aromatase gene Cyp19a1 were highly expressed in ZZ and ZW gonads, respectively, just after sex determination. At this stage, we found that Cyp17a1, Cyp19a1, or both were expressed in the ZZ and ZW gonads in a unique mass-in-line structure, in which several masses of cells, each surrounded by a basement membrane, were aligned along the anteroposterior axis. In fact, during sex differentiation, ovarian cavities formed inside each mass of Cyp17a1- and Cyp19a1-positive cells in the ZW gonads. However, the mass-in-line structure disappeared during testicular development in the ZZ testes. These results suggested that the mass-in-line structure found in both ZZ and ZW gonads just after sex determination might be formed in advance to produce ovarian cavities and then oocytes. Consequently, we propose a view that the default sex may be female in the morphological aspect of gonads in X laevis.