Estrogen Rescues Masculinization of Genetically Female Medaka by Exposure to Cortisol or High Temperature

Mol Reprod Dev. 2012 Oct;79(10):719-26. doi: 10.1002/mrd.22080. Epub 2012 Sep 14.


Medaka (Oryzias latipes) is a teleost fish with an XX/XY sex determination system. Recently, it was reported that XX medaka can be sex-reversed into phenotypic males by exposure to high water temperature (HT) during gonadal sex differentiation, possibly by elevation of cortisol, the major glucocorticoid produced by the interrenal cells in teleosts. Yet, it remains unclear how the elevation of cortisol levels by HT causes female-to-male sex reversal. This paper reports that exposure to cortisol or HT after hatching inhibited both the proliferation of female-type germ cells and the expression of ovarian-type aromatase (cyp19a1), which encodes a steroidogenic enzyme responsible for the conversion of androgens to estrogens, and induced the expression of gonadal soma-derived growth factor (gsdf) in XX gonads during gonadal sex differentiation. In contrast, exposure to either cortisol or HT in combination with 17β-estradiol (E2) did not produce these effects. Moreover, E2 completely rescued cortisol- and HT-induced masculinization of XX medaka. These results strongly suggest that cortisol and HT cause female-to-male sex reversal in medaka by suppression of cyp19a1 expression, with a resultant inhibition of estrogen biosynthesis. This mechanism may be common among animals with temperature-dependent sex determination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aromatase / genetics
  • Aromatase / metabolism
  • Estrogens / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Germ Cells / cytology
  • Germ Cells / drug effects
  • Germ Cells / metabolism
  • Germ Cells / radiation effects
  • Gonads / cytology
  • Gonads / drug effects
  • Gonads / metabolism
  • Gonads / radiation effects
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Hot Temperature
  • Hydrocortisone / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Oryzias
  • Ovary / chemistry
  • Ovary / drug effects
  • Ovary / metabolism
  • Ovary / radiation effects
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Sex Determination Processes / drug effects
  • Sex Determination Processes / physiology*
  • Sex Determination Processes / radiation effects


  • Estrogens
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Aromatase
  • Hydrocortisone