Effects of long term antiprogestine mifepristone (RU486) exposure on sexually dimorphic lncRNA expression and gonadal masculinization in Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus)

Aquat Toxicol. 2019 Oct:215:105289. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2019.105289. Epub 2019 Aug 28.


Mifepristone (RU486), a clinical abortion agent and potential endocrine disruptor, binds to progestin and glucocorticoid receptors and has multiple functional importance in reproductive physiology. A long-term exposure of RU486 resulted in masculinization of female fish, however, the epigenetic landscape remains elusive. Recent studies demonstrated that long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs) might play potential roles in epigenetic modulation of sex differentiation, ovarian cancer and germline stem cell survival. To further understand the influence of RU486 exposure on epigenetic regulation, we performed a comparative investigation on sex-biased gonadal lncRNAs profiles using control XX/XY and RU486-induced sex reversed XX Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) by RNA-seq. In total, 962 sexually differentially expressed lncRNAs and their target genes were screened from the gonads of control and sex reversed fish. In comparison with the control XX group, sex reversal induced by RU486 treatment led to significant up-regulation of 757 lncRNAs and down-regulation of 221 lncRNAs. Hierarchical clustering analysis revealed that global lncRNA expression profiles in RU486-treated XX group clustered into the same branch with the control XY, whereas XX control group formed a separate branch. The KEGG pathway enrichment analysis showed that the cis-target genes between RU486-XX and control-XX were concentrated in NOD - like receptor signaling pathway, Cell adhesion molecules (CAMs) and Biosynthesis of amino acids. Real-time PCR and in situ hybridization experiments demonstrate that lncRNAs showing intense fluctuation during RU486 treatment are also sexually dimorphic during early sex differentiation, which further proves the intimate relationship between lncRNAs and sex differentiation and sexual transdifferentiation. Taken together, our data strongly indicates that a long-term exposure of RU486 resulted in sex reversal of XX female fish and the altered expression of sexually dimorphic lncRNAs might partially account for the sex reversal via epigenetic modification.

Keywords: Epigenetic regulation; Nile tilapia; RU486; Sex reversal; lncRNAs.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cichlids / genetics*
  • Cichlids / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects*
  • Genome
  • Gonads / drug effects
  • Gonads / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mifepristone / toxicity*
  • Open Reading Frames / genetics
  • Ovary / drug effects
  • Ovary / metabolism
  • Progestins / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • RNA, Long Noncoding / genetics*
  • RNA, Long Noncoding / metabolism
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Testis / drug effects
  • Testis / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • Tissue Distribution / drug effects
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity


  • Progestins
  • RNA, Long Noncoding
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Mifepristone