Environmental contaminant exposure can influence gonadal steroid signaling milieus; however, little research has investigated the vulnerability of non-steroidal signaling pathways in the gonads. Here we use American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) hatched from field-collected eggs to analyze gonadal mRNA transcript levels of the activin-inhibin-follistatin gene expression network and growth differentiation factor 9. The eggs were collected from Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, a site with minimal anthropogenic influence, and Lake Apopka, a highly contaminated lake adjacent to a former EPA Superfund site. The hatchling alligators were raised for 13 months under controlled conditions, thus limiting differences to embryonic origins. Our data reveal sexually dimorphic mRNA expression in 13-month-old alligator gonads similar to patterns established in vertebrates with genetic sex determination. In addition, we observed a relationship between lake of origin and mRNA expression of activin/inhibin subunits α and βB, follistatin, and growth differentiation factor 9. Our study suggests that embryonic exposure to environmental contaminants can affect future non-steroidal signaling patterns in the gonads of a long-lived species.
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