Autoregulatory functioning of a Drosophila gene product that establish es and maintains the sexually determined state

Genetics. 1984 Jun;107(2):231-77.


Sxl appears to head a regulatory gene hierarchy that controls Drosophila sexual dimorphism in response to the X chromosome/autosome balance. Only XXAA cells normally have Sxl(+) activity. It maintains both the female morphogenetic sequence and a level of X-linked dosage-compensated gene expression compatible with diplo-X cell survival. In the absence of this activity, male sexual development and dosage-compensated gene hyperactivation ensure. Loss-of-function Sxl mutations generally have female-specific lethal effects caused by upsets in dosage compensation. New female-viable Sxl mutant alleles and combinations which lack Sxl's female sex determination function, yet still provide sufficient dosage compensation function for diplo-X survival, are described here. Consequently, such mutants cause genotypic females to develop as phenotypic males. Some of these sex-transforming Sxl mutants do not require the maternally produced da(+) activity that is normally essential for the functioning of zygotic Sxl alleles. In this paper, products of these unusual alleles are shown to act in trans to induce the expression of zygotic Sxl(+) alleles that would otherwise be unable to function due to a lack of maternal da(+) activity. This result indicates a third function for Sxl(+) product: a positive autoregulatory role. Controls for the autoregulation experiments demonstrated the sex-trans-forming epigenetic effect of the da mutation for the first time in diploids. In these experiments the female-specific zygotic lethal effects that normally would have accompanied loss of maternal da(+) activity were suppressed by mutations known to block dosage-compensation gene hyperactivation-the autosomal, male-specific lethals. Three types of abnormal sexual phenotypes were produced in the experiments described here, each with important implications for the mechanism of sex determination: (1) a true intersex phenotype produced by one particular Sxl allele shows that Sxl(+) must be involved in the cellular response to the X/A balance rather than in its establishment; (2) a maternally induced, female-sterile phenotype indicates that either the process of autoregulation or the mutants used to demonstrate it are tissue specific and (3) a mosaic intersexual phenotype whose character implies that the Sxl(+ ) activity level is set early in development, both by the da( +)-mediated X/A balance signal and by autoregulation, and is maintained subsequently in a cell autonomous fashion, independent of the initiating X/A balance signal. Thus, this study supports the view that sex determination is truly determinative in the standard developmental sense, and that Sxl is the carrier of the sexually determined state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • Dosage Compensation, Genetic
  • Drosophila / genetics*
  • Feedback
  • Female
  • Genes, Lethal
  • Genes, Regulator*
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Male
  • Mutation
  • Sex Determination Analysis*
  • X Chromosome