A sexual shift induced by silencing of a single insulin-like gene in crayfish: Ovarian upregulation and testicular degeneration

Ohad Rosen, Rivka Manor, Simy Weil, Ohad Gafni, Assaf Linial, Eliahu D. Aflalo, Tomer Ventura, Amir Sagi

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In sequential hermaphrodites, intersexuality occurs naturally, usually as a transition state during sexual re-differentiation processes. In crustaceans, male sexual differentiation is controlled by the male-specific androgenic gland (AG). An AGspecific insulin-like gene, previously identified in the red-claw crayfish Cherax quadricarinatus (designated Cq-IAG), was found in this study to be the prominent transcript in an AG cDNA subtractive library. In C. quadricarinatus, sexual plasticity is exhibited by intersex individuals in the form of an active male reproductive system and male secondary sex characters, along with a constantly arrested ovary. This intersexuality was exploited to follow changes caused by single gene silencing, accomplished via dsRNA injection. Cq-IAG silencing induced dramatic sex-related alterations, including male feature feminization, a reduction in sperm production, extensive testicular degeneration, expression of the vitellogenin gene, and accumulation of yolk proteins in the developing oocytes. Upon silencing of the gene, AG cells hypertrophied, possibly to compensate for low hormone levels, as reflected in the poor production of the insulin-like hormone (and revealed by immunohistochemistry). These results demonstrate both the functionality of Cq-IAG as an androgenic hormone-encoding gene and the dependence of male gonad viability on the Cq-IAG product. This study is the first to provide evidence that silencing an insulin-like gene in intersex C. quadricarinatus feminizes male-related phenotypes. These findings, moreover, contribute to the understanding of the regulation of sexual shifts, whether naturally occurring in sequential hermaphrodites or abnormally induced by endocrine disruptors found in the environment, and offer insight into an unusual gender-related link to the evolution of insulins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere15281
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2010


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