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      Endocrine sex reversal of gonads by the aromatase inhibitor Letrozole (CGS 20267) in Emys orbicularis, a turtle with temperature-dependent sex determination.

      General and Comparative Endocrinology

      pharmacology, Turtles, Female, Enzyme Inhibitors, Gonads, cytology, drug effects, embryology, Nitriles, Pregnancy, Sex Differentiation, Triazoles, Analysis of Variance, Animals

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          In embryos of Emys orbicularis, the sexual differentiation of gonads is influenced by the incubation temperature of eggs. Estrogens administered during the thermosensitive period result in the feminization of gonads at 25 degrees (male-producing temperature), whereas an antiestrogen or aromatase inhibitors masculinize the gonads at 30 degrees (female-producing temperature). The nonsteroidal aromatase inhibitor Letrozole induces gonads with different degrees of masculinization, from ovary-like to testis-like. The present study examines the endocrine function of such masculinized gonads, at the end of embryonic life. Aromatase activity (which is involved in estrogen synthesis in ovary) and the status of Müllerian ducts (the regression of which reflects the secretion of a putative anti-Müllerian hormone by the Sertoli cells) were examined. One month after treatment with Letrozole, the gonads of embryos presented various levels of aromatase activity. There was a strong correlation among aromatase activity, gonadal structure, and Müllerian duct status; high levels of aromatase (similar or close to those in control females) were found in ovary-like gonads; intermediate levels were found in gonads (masculinized ovaries or ovotestes?) exhibiting a cortex and a composite medulla containing a mixture of ovarian lacunae and testicular cord-like structures; low levels (similar or close to those in control males) were found in strongly masculinized gonads (testis-like or ovotestes). Müllerian ducts were regressing in the majority of embryos with gonads containing low levels of aromatase activity. In these individuals, gonads functioned as embryonic testes. These results confirm the implication of estrogens in gonadal differentiation. The origin of these hormones is controversial, so that the aromatase activity was compared in gonads, in the undissociated adrenal-mesonephric complex (AM), and in different parts of this complex during the thermosensitive period. At the female-producing temperature, the aromatase activity per unit of tissue increased in differentiating ovaries but it was low in AM and similar to that found in AM at male-producing temperature. In embryos whose gonads had been masculinized by early treatment with Letrozole, aromatase activity was unchanged in AM. These results suggest that the main source of estrogens involved in ovarian differentiation is the gonad itself.

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