Sex determination and primary sex differentiation in amphibians: genetic and developmental mechanisms

J Exp Zool. 1998 Aug 1;281(5):373-99.


Most amphibians lack morphologically distinguishable sex chromosomes, but a number of experimental techniques have shown that amphibian sex determination is controlled genetically. The few studies suggesting that environment influences sex determination in amphibians have all been conducted at temperatures outside of the range normally experienced by the species under study, and these effects probably do not occur under natural conditions. No sex-determining genes have been described in amphibians, and sex differentiation can be altered by treatment with exogenous steroid hormones. The effects of sex steroids vary extensively between species, and a variety of steroids can alter the sex ratios of treated larvae. The role of endogenous sex steroids in gonadal differentiation has not been fully explored; thus the natural role of steroids in amphibian gonadal differentiation is unknown. Sex steroid receptors have not been examined in amphibian gonads, and the mechanism of steroid action on the gonad is unclear. In addition to steroids, the thyroid hormones may play a role in gonadal differentiation. Pituitary gonadotrop(h)ins affect gonadal growth, but not differentiation or maturation of gonads. In addition to the issue of resolving the mechanisms underlying hormone action in gonadal differentiation, other debates concerning interactions between the developing gonads and the invading germ cells, and even the origin of the medullary and cortical portions of the developing gonads, remain unresolved. Studies examining links between sex determination and gonadal differentiation are needed. In addition, examinations of variation in steroidal effects on gonadal development in a phylogenetic context are lacking.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Male
  • Ovary / physiology*
  • Sex Determination Processes*
  • Sex Differentiation / genetics*
  • Testis / physiology*