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      DNA Methylation of the Gonadal Aromatase ( cyp19a) Promoter Is Involved in Temperature-Dependent Sex Ratio Shifts in the European Sea Bass


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          Sex ratio shifts in response to temperature are common in fish and reptiles. However, the mechanism linking temperature during early development and sex ratios has remained elusive. We show in the European sea bass (sb), a fish in which temperature effects on sex ratios are maximal before the gonads form, that juvenile males have double the DNA methylation levels of females in the promoter of gonadal aromatase ( cyp19a), the enzyme that converts androgens into estrogens. Exposure to high temperature increased the cyp19a promoter methylation levels of females, indicating that induced-masculinization involves DNA methylation-mediated control of aromatase gene expression, with an observed inverse relationship between methylation levels and expression. Although different CpGs within the sb cyp19a promoter exhibited different sensitivity to temperature, we show that the increased methylation of the sb cyp19a promoter, which occurs in the gonads but not in the brain, is not a generalized effect of temperature. Importantly, these effects were also observed in sexually undifferentiated fish and were not altered by estrogen treatment. Thus, methylation of the sb cyp19a promoter is the cause of the lower expression of cyp19a in temperature-masculinized fish. In vitro, induced methylation of the sb cyp19a promoter suppressed the ability of SF-1 and Foxl2 to stimulate transcription. Finally, a CpG differentially methylated by temperature and adjacent to a Sox transcription factor binding site is conserved across species. Thus, DNA methylation of the aromatase promoter may be an essential component of the long-sought-after mechanism connecting environmental temperature and sex ratios in vertebrate species with temperature-dependent sex determination.

          Author Summary

          Temperature changes during early embryonic and/or larval stages are able to modify sex ratios in fish and reptiles. However, the underlying mechanism by which temperature is able to modify the molecular pathways that developing gonads follow to become ovaries or testes is still unknown. One of the most interesting questions raised from previous studies with our model species, the European sea bass, was how temperature could affect the developmental fate of the gonads at a time when they were not even formed in the most rudimentary manner. This was the telltale sign of an epigenetic mechanism. In this study, DNA methylation levels of the aromatase promoter were analyzed in European sea bass exposed to different temperatures during early developmental stages. Aromatase is the enzyme that converts androgens (male hormones) into estrogens (female hormones), which are essential for ovarian development in all non-mammalian vertebrates. We show that increased temperature during a critical period in early development is able to increase DNA methylation of the aromatase promoter, preventing aromatase gene expression. We conclude that gonadal aromatase promoter methylation is most likely part of the long-sought-after mechanism connecting temperature and environmental sex determination in vertebrates.

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          Most cited references55

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          Royalactin induces queen differentiation in honeybees.

          The honeybee (Apis mellifera) forms two female castes: the queen and the worker. This dimorphism depends not on genetic differences, but on ingestion of royal jelly, although the mechanism through which royal jelly regulates caste differentiation has long remained unknown. Here I show that a 57-kDa protein in royal jelly, previously designated as royalactin, induces the differentiation of honeybee larvae into queens. Royalactin increased body size and ovary development and shortened developmental time in honeybees. Surprisingly, it also showed similar effects in the fruitfly (Drosophila melanogaster). Mechanistic studies revealed that royalactin activated p70 S6 kinase, which was responsible for the increase of body size, increased the activity of mitogen-activated protein kinase, which was involved in the decreased developmental time, and increased the titre of juvenile hormone, an essential hormone for ovary development. Knockdown of epidermal growth factor receptor (Egfr) expression in the fat body of honeybees and fruitflies resulted in a defect of all phenotypes induced by royalactin, showing that Egfr mediates these actions. These findings indicate that a specific factor in royal jelly, royalactin, drives queen development through an Egfr-mediated signalling pathway.
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            DNA methylation: the nuts and bolts of repression.

            DNA methylation is an epigenetic modification which plays an important role in chromatin organization and gene expression. DNA methylation can silence genes and repetitive elements through a process which leads to the alteration of chromatin structure. The mechanisms which target DNA methylation to specific sites in the genome are not fully understood. In this review, we will discuss the mechanisms which lead to the long-term silencing of genes and will survey the progression that has been made in determining the targeted mechanisms for de novo DNA methylation.
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              Extensive and orderly reprogramming of genome-wide chromatin modifications associated with specification and early development of germ cells in mice.

              Induction of mouse germ cells occurs from the proximal epiblast at around embryonic day (E) 7.0. These germ cells then migrate to, and enter the gonads at about E10.5 after which they undergo epigenetic reprogramming including erasure of parental imprints. However, the epigenetic properties acquired by nascent germ cells and the potential remodeling of these epigenetic marks in the subsequent migratory period have been largely unexplored. Here we have used immunohistochemistry to examine several genome-wide epigenetic modifications occurring in germ cells from their specification to their colonization of the genital ridges. We show that at around E8.0, germ cells concomitantly and significantly reduce H3-K9 dimethylation and DNA methylation, two major repressive modifications for gene expression. These events are preceded by the transient loss of all the DNA methyltransferases from their nuclei. By contrast, germ cells substantially increase the levels of H3-K27 trimethylation, another repressive modification with more plasticity, at E8.5-9.0 and maintain this state until at least E12.5. H3-K4 methylation and H3-K9 acetylation, modifications associated with transcriptionally permissive/active chromatin, are similar in germ and surrounding somatic cells but germ cells transiently increase these marks sharply upon their entry into the genital ridge. H3-K9 trimethylation, a hallmark of centromeric heterochromatin, is kept relatively constant during the periods examined. We suggest that this orderly and extensive epigenetic reprogramming in premigratory and migratory germ cells might be necessary for their reacquisition of underlying totipotency, for subsequent specific epigenetic remodeling, including the resetting of parental imprints, and for the production of gametes with an appropriate epigenotype for supporting normal development.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS Genet
                PLoS Genetics
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                December 2011
                December 2011
                29 December 2011
                03 January 2012
                : 7
                : 12
                : e1002447
                [1 ]Institut de Ciències del Mar, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), Barcelona, Spain
                [2 ]Centre de Regulació Genòmica (CRG)/ICREA and Univeristat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Barcelona, Spain
                Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Australia
                Author notes

                Current address: Centre for Advanced Research in Environmental Genomics (CAREG), Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada


                Current address: Laboratori d'Ictiologia Genètica, Departament de Biologia, Universitat de Girona, Girona, Spain

                Conceived and designed the experiments: LN-M JV LDC FP. Performed the experiments: LN-M JV LR ND AG. Analyzed the data: LN-M JV LR ND AG FP. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: FP LDC. Wrote the paper: LN-M JV FP.

                Navarro-Martín et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
                : 4 April 2011
                : 16 November 2011
                Page count
                Pages: 15
                Research Article
                Developmental Biology
                Sex Determination
                DNA modification
                Marine Biology
                Fisheries Science



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