Sex determination in insects: a binary decision based on alternative splicing

Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2011 Aug;21(4):395-400. doi: 10.1016/j.gde.2011.03.001. Epub 2011 Apr 5.


The gene regulatory networks that control sex determination vary between species. Despite these differences, comparative studies in insects have found that alternative splicing is reiteratively used in evolution to control expression of the key sex-determining genes. Sex determination is best understood in Drosophila where activation of the RNA binding protein-encoding gene Sex-lethal is the central female-determining event. Sex-lethal serves as a genetic switch because once activated it controls its own expression by a positive feedback splicing mechanism. Sex fate choice in is also maintained by self-sustaining positive feedback splicing mechanisms in other dipteran and hymenopteran insects, although different RNA binding protein-encoding genes function as the binary switch. Studies exploring the mechanisms of sex-specific splicing have revealed the extent to which sex determination is integrated with other developmental regulatory networks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alternative Splicing / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Drosophila melanogaster / embryology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / metabolism
  • Feedback, Physiological
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Male
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Sex Determination Processes / genetics*


  • RNA, Messenger