skip to main content

Title: Species differences in hormonally mediated gene expression underlie the evolutionary loss of sexually dimorphic coloration in Sceloporus lizards

Phenotypic sexual dimorphism often involves the hormonal regulation of sex-biased expression for underlying genes. However, it is generally unknown whether the evolution of hormonally mediated sexual dimorphism occurs through upstream changes in tissue sensitivity to hormone signals, downstream changes in responsiveness of target genes, or both. Here, we use comparative transcriptomics to explore these possibilities in 2 species of Sceloporus lizards exhibiting different patterns of sexual dichromatism. Sexually dimorphic S. undulatus develops blue and black ventral coloration in response to testosterone, while sexually monomorphic S. virgatus does not, despite exhibiting similar sex differences in circulating testosterone levels. We administered testosterone implants to juveniles of each species and used RNAseq to quantify gene expression in ventral skin. Transcriptome-wide responses to testosterone were stronger in S. undulatus than in S. virgatus, suggesting species differences in tissue sensitivity to this hormone signal. Species differences in the expression of genes for androgen metabolism and sex hormone-binding globulin were consistent with this idea, but expression of the androgen receptor gene was higher in S. virgatus, complicating this interpretation. Downstream of androgen signaling, we found clear species differences in hormonal responsiveness of genes related to melanin synthesis, which were upregulated by testosterone in S. undulatus, but not in S. virgatus. Collectively, our results indicate that hormonal regulation of melanin synthesis pathways contributes to the development of sexual dimorphism in S. undulatus, and that changes in the hormonal responsiveness of these genes in S. virgatus contribute to the evolutionary loss of ventral coloration.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
1755026 2024064
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Oxford University Press
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Journal of Heredity
Medium: X Size: p. 637-653
["p. 637-653"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Sex differences in animal coloration often result from sex‐dependent regulatory mechanisms. Still, some species exhibit incomplete sexual dimorphism as females carry a rudimentary version of a costly male trait, leading to intralocus sexual conflict. The underlying physiology and condition dependence of these traits can inform why such conflicts remain unresolved. In eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus), blue iridophore badges are found in males and females, but melanin pigmentation underneath and surrounding badges is male‐exclusive. We track color saturation and area of badges across sexual maturity, and their relationship to individual quality (body condition and immunocompetence) and relevant hormones (testosterone and corticosterone). Saturation and testosterone were positively correlated in both sexes, but hormone and trait had little overlap between males and females. Saturation was correlated with body condition and immunocompetence in males but not in females. Co‐regulation by androgens may have released females from resource allocation costs of color saturation, even when in high condition. Badge area was independent of testosterone, but associated with low corticosterone in females, indicating that a nonsex hormone underlies incomplete sexual dimorphism. Given the evidence in this species for female reproductive costs associated with ornamentation, this sex‐nonspecific regulation of an honest signal may underlie intralocus sexual conflict.

    more » « less
  2. Sex differences in gene expression tend to increase with age across a variety of species, often coincident with the development of sexual dimorphism and maturational changes in hormone levels. However, because most transcriptome-wide characterizations of sexual divergence are framed as comparisons of sex-biased gene expression across ages, it can be difficult to determine the extent to which age-biased gene expression within each sex contributes to the emergence of sex-biased gene expression. Using RNAseq in the liver of the sexually dimorphic brown anole lizard ( Anolis sagrei ), we found that a pronounced increase in sex-biased gene expression with age was associated with a much greater degree of age-biased gene expression in males than in females. This pattern suggests that developmental changes in males, such as maturational increases in circulating testosterone, contribute disproportionately to the ontogenetic emergence of sex-biased gene expression. To test this hypothesis, we used four different experimental contrasts to independently characterize sets of genes whose expression differed as a function of castration and/or treatment with exogenous testosterone. We found that genes that were significantly male-biased in expression or upregulated as males matured tended to be upregulated by testosterone, whereas genes that were female-biased or downregulated as males matured tended to be downregulated by testosterone. Moreover, the first two principal components describing multivariate gene expression indicated that exogenous testosterone reversed many of the feminizing effects of castration on the liver transcriptome of maturing males. Collectively, our results suggest that developmental changes that occur in males contribute disproportionately to the emergence of sex-biased gene expression in the Anolis liver, and that many of these changes are orchestrated by androgens such as testosterone. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract Background

    Sexually dimorphic mating behaviors differ between sexes and involve gonadal hormones and possibly sexually dimorphic gene expression in the brain. However, the associations among the brain, gonad, and sexual behavior in teleosts are still unclear. Here, we utilized germ cells-freetdrd12knockout (KO) zebrafish, and steroid synthesis enzymecyp17a1-deficient zebrafish to investigate the differences and interplays in the brain–gonad–behavior axis, and the molecular control of brain dimorphism and male mating behaviors.


    Tdrd12+/−;cyp17a1+/−double heterozygous parents were crossed to obtaintdrd12−/−;cyp17a1+/+(tdrd12 KO),tdrd12+/+;cyp17a1−/−(cyp17a1 KO), andtdrd12−/−;cyp17a1−/−(double KO) homozygous progenies. Comparative analysis of mating behaviors were evaluated using Viewpoint zebrafish tracking software and sexual traits were thoroughly characterized based on anatomical and histological experiments in these KOs and wild types. The steroid hormone levels (testosterone, 11-ketotestosterone and 17β-estradiol) in the brains, gonads, and serum were measured using ELISA kits. To achieve a higher resolution view of the differences in region-specific expression patterns of the brain, the brains of these KOs, and control male and female fish were dissected into three regions: the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain for transcriptomic analysis.


    Qualitative analysis of mating behaviors demonstrated thattdrd12−/−fish behaved in the same manner as wild-type males to trigger oviposition behavior, whilecyp17a1−/−and double knockout (KO) fish did not exhibit these behaviors. Based on the observation of sex characteristics, mating behaviors and hormone levels in these mutants, we found that the maintenance of secondary sex characteristics and male mating behavior did not depend on the presence of germ cells; rather, they depended mainly on the 11-ketotestosterone and testosterone levels secreted into the brain–gonad regulatory axis. RNA-seq analysis of different brain regions revealed that the brain transcript profile oftdrd12−/−fish was similar to that of wild-type males, especially in the forebrain and midbrain. However, the brain transcript profiles ofcyp17a1−/−and double KO fish were distinct from those of wild-type males and were partially biased towards the expression pattern of the female brain. Our results revealed important candidate genes and signaling pathways, such as synaptic signaling/neurotransmission, MAPK signaling, and steroid hormone pathways, that shape brain dimorphism and modulate male mating behavior in zebrafish.


    Our results provide comprehensive analyses and new insights regarding the endogenous interactions in the brain–gonad–behavior axis. Moreover, this study revealed the crucial candidate genes and neural signaling pathways of different brain regions that are involved in modulating brain dimorphism and male mating behavior in zebrafish, which would significantly light up the understanding the neuroendocrine and molecular mechanisms modulating brain dimorphism and male mating behavior in zebrafish and other teleost fish.

    Graphical Abstract 
    more » « less
  4. Synopsis

    Sexual size dimorphism is widespread in nature and often develops through sexual divergence in growth trajectories. In vertebrates, the growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor (GH/IGF) network is an important regulator of growth, and components of this network are often regulated in sex-specific fashion during the development of sexual size dimorphism. However, expression of the GH/IGF network is not well characterized outside of mammalian model systems, and the extent to which species differences in sexual size dimorphism are related to differences in GH/IGF network expression is unclear. To begin bridging this gap, we compared GH/IGF network expression in liver and muscle from 2 lizard congeners, one with extreme male-biased sexual size dimorphism (brown anole, Anolis sagrei), and one that is sexually monomorphic in size (slender anole, A. apletophallus). Specifically, we tested whether GH/IGF network expression in adult slender anoles resembles the highly sex-biased expression observed in adult brown anoles or the relatively unbiased expression observed in juvenile brown anoles. We found that adults of the 2 species differed significantly in the strength of sex-biased expression for several key upstream genes in the GH/IGF network, including insulin-like growth factors 1 and 2. However, species differences in sex-biased expression were minor when comparing adult slender anoles to juvenile brown anoles. Moreover, the multivariate expression of the entire GH/IGF network (as represented by the first two principal components describing network expression) was sex-biased for the liver and muscle of adult brown anoles, but not for either tissue in juvenile brown anoles or adult slender anoles. Our work suggests that species differences in sex-biased expression of genes in the GH/IGF network (particularly in the liver) may contribute to the evolution of species differences in sexual size dimorphism.

    more » « less
  5. The democratization of genomic technologies has revealed profound sex biases in expression patterns in every adult tissue, even in organs with no conspicuous differences, such as the heart. With the increasing awareness of the disparities in cardiac pathophysiology between males and females, there are exciting opportunities to explore how sex differences in the heart are established developmentally. Although sexual dimorphism is traditionally attributed to hormonal influence, expression and epigenetic sex biases observed in early cardiac development can only be accounted for by the difference in sex chromosome composition, i.e., XX in females and XY in males. In fact, genes linked to the X and Y chromosomes, many of which encode regulatory factors, are expressed in cardiac progenitor cells and at every subsequent developmental stage. The effect of the sex chromosome composition may explain why many congenital heart defects originating before gonad formation exhibit sex biases in presentation, mortality, and morbidity. Some transcriptional and epigenetic sex biases established soon after fertilization persist in cardiac lineages, suggesting that early epigenetic events are perpetuated beyond early embryogenesis. Importantly, when sex hormones begin to circulate, they encounter a cardiac genome that is already functionally distinct between the sexes. Although there is a wealth of knowledge on the effects of sex hormones on cardiac function, we propose that sex chromosome-linked genes and their downstream targets also contribute to the differences between male and female hearts. Moreover, identifying how hormones influence sex chromosome effects, whether antagonistically or synergistically, will enhance our understanding of how sex disparities are established. We also explore the possibility that sexual dimorphism of the developing heart predicts sex-specific responses to environmental signals and foreshadows sex-biased health-related outcomes after birth. 
    more » « less