The end of gonad-centric sex determination in mammals

Trends Genet. 2012 Feb;28(2):55-61. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2011.10.004. Epub 2011 Nov 9.


The 20th-century theory of mammalian sex determination states that the embryo is sexually indifferent until the differentiation of gonads, after which sex differences in phenotype are caused by the differential effects of gonadal hormones. However, this theory is inadequate because some sex differences precede differentiation of the gonads and/or are determined by non-gonadal effects of the sexual inequality in the number and type of sex chromosomes. In this article, I propose a general theory of sex determination, which recognizes multiple parallel primary sex-determining pathways initiated by genes or factors encoded by the sex chromosomes. The separate sex-specific pathways interact to synergize with or antagonize each other, enhancing or reducing sex differences in phenotype.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Genome
  • Gonads / embryology
  • Gonads / growth & development*
  • Gonads / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Mammals / embryology
  • Mammals / genetics*
  • Mammals / growth & development
  • Sex Determination Processes*
  • Sex Differentiation