An immune-related gene evolved into the master sex-determining gene in rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss

Curr Biol. 2012 Aug 7;22(15):1423-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.05.045. Epub 2012 Jun 21.


Since the discovery of Sry in mammals [1, 2], few other master sex-determining genes have been identified in vertebrates [3-7]. To date, all of these genes have been characterized as well-known factors in the sex differentiation pathway, suggesting that the same subset of genes have been repeatedly and independently selected throughout evolution as master sex determinants [8, 9]. Here, we characterized in rainbow trout an unknown gene expressed only in the testis, with a predominant expression during testicular differentiation. This gene is a male-specific genomic sequence that is colocalized along with the sex-determining locus. This gene, named sdY for sexually dimorphic on the Y chromosome, encodes a protein that displays similarity to the C-terminal domain of interferon regulatory factor 9. The targeted inactivation of sdY in males using zinc-finger nuclease induces ovarian differentiation, and the overexpression of sdY in females using additive transgenesis induces testicular differentiation. Together, these results demonstrate that sdY is a novel vertebrate master sex-determining gene not related to any known sex-differentiating gene. These findings highlight an unexpected evolutionary plasticity in vertebrate sex determination through the demonstration that master sex determinants can arise from the de novo evolution of genes that have not been previously implicated in sex differentiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Female
  • Interferon Regulatory Factors / genetics
  • Male
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Oncorhynchus mykiss / genetics*
  • Oncorhynchus mykiss / growth & development
  • Oncorhynchus mykiss / immunology
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid
  • Sex Determination Processes*
  • Testis / growth & development*
  • Testis / metabolism
  • Y Chromosome / genetics


  • Interferon Regulatory Factors

Associated data

  • GENBANK/AB626896