Cortisol Is Involved in Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination in the Japanese Flounder

Endocrinology. 2010 Aug;151(8):3900-8. doi: 10.1210/en.2010-0228. Epub 2010 Jun 9.


In vertebrates, sex is normally determined by genotype. However, in poikilothermal vertebrates, including reptiles, amphibians, and fishes, sex determination is greatly influenced by environmental factors, such as temperature. Little is known about the molecular mechanisms underlying environmental sex determination in these species. The Japanese flounder (Paralichthys olivaceus) is a teleost fish with an XX/XY sex determination system. However, XX flounder can be induced to develop into predominantly either phenotypic females or males, by rearing at 18 or 27 C, respectively, during the sex differentiation period. Therefore, the flounder provides an excellent model to study the molecular mechanisms underlying temperature-dependent sex determination. We previously showed that an aromatase inhibitor, an antiestrogen, and 27 C treatments cause masculinization of XX flounder, as well as suppression of mRNA expression of ovary-type aromatase (cyp19a1), a steroidogenic enzyme responsible for the conversion of androgens to estrogens in the gonads. Furthermore, estrogen administration completely inhibits masculinization by these treatments, suggesting suppression of cyp19a1 mRNA expression, and the resultant estrogen biosynthesis may trigger masculinization of the XX flounder induced by high water temperature. Here, we demonstrated that cortisol causes female-to-male sex reversal by directly suppressing cyp19a1 mRNA expression via interference with cAMP-mediated activation and that metyrapone (an inhibitor of cortisol synthesis) inhibits 27 C-induced masculinization of XX flounder. Moreover, cortisol concentrations in 27 C-reared juveniles were significantly higher than in 18 C-reared fishes during sexual differentiation. These results strongly suggest that masculinization by high water temperature is ascribable to elevation of cortisol concentration during gonadal sex differentiation in the flounder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aromatase / genetics
  • Aromatase / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Disorders of Sex Development
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Flounder / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / metabolism
  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid / physiology
  • Sex Determination Processes*
  • Sex Differentiation / physiology
  • Sex Ratio
  • Temperature*


  • Receptors, Glucocorticoid
  • Aromatase
  • Hydrocortisone