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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2025
  2. Abstract

    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.

     
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  3. 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. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
    The environment experienced during embryonic development is a rich source of phenotypic variation, as environmental signals have the potential to both inform adaptive plastic responses and disrupt normal developmental programs. Environment-by-embryo interactions are particularly consequential for species with temperature-dependent sex determination, a mode of sex determination common in non-avian reptiles and fish, in which thermal cues during a discrete period of development drive the formation of either an ovary or a testis. Here we examine the impact of thermal variation during incubation in combination with developmental exposure to a common endocrine-disrupting contaminant on fitness-related hatchling traits in the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), a species with temperature-dependent sex determination. Using a factorial design, we exposed field-collected eggs to five thermal profiles (three constant temperatures, two fluctuating temperatures) and two environmentally relevant doses of the pesticide metabolite dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene; and we quantified incubation duration, sex ratios, hatchling morphometric traits, and growth (9–10 days post-hatch). Whereas dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene exposure did not generally affect hatchling traits, constant and fluctuating temperatures produced diverse phenotypic effects. Thermal fluctuations led to subtle changes in incubation duration and produced shorter hatchlings with smaller heads when compared to the constant temperature control. Warmer, male-promoting incubation temperatures resulted in larger hatchlings with more residual yolk reserves when compared to cooler, female-promoting temperatures. Together, these findings advance our understanding of how complex environmental factors interact with developing organisms to generate phenotypic variation and raise questions regarding the mechanisms connecting variable thermal conditions to responses in hatchling traits and their evolutionary implications for temperature-dependent sex determination. 
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  5. null (Ed.)
    Synopsis An organism’s ability to integrate transient environmental cues experienced during development into molecular and physiological responses forms the basis for adaptive shifts in phenotypic trajectories. During temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), thermal cues during discrete periods in development coordinate molecular changes that ultimately dictate sexual fate and contribute to patterns of inter- and intra-sexual variation. How these mechanisms interface with dynamic thermal environments in nature remain largely unknown. By deploying thermal loggers in wild nests of the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) over two consecutive breeding seasons, we observed that 80% of nests exhibit both male- and female-promoting thermal cues during the thermosensitive period, and of these nests, all exhibited both male- and female-promoting temperatures within the span of a single day. These observations raise a critical question—how are opposing environmental cues integrated into sexually dimorphic transcriptional programs across short temporal scales? To address this question, alligator embryos were exposed to fluctuating temperatures based on nest thermal profiles and sampled over the course of a daily thermal fluctuation. We examined the expression dynamics of upstream genes in the temperature-sensing pathway and find that post-transcriptional alternative splicing and transcript abundance of epigenetic modifier genes JARID2 and KDM6B respond rapidly to thermal fluctuations while transcriptional changes of downstream effector genes, SOX9 and DMRT1, occur on a delayed timescale. Our findings reveal how the basic mechanisms of TSD operate in an ecologically relevant context. We present a hypothetical hierarchical model based on our findings as well as previous studies, in which temperature-sensitive alternative splicing incrementally influences the epigenetic landscape to affect the transcriptional activity of key sex-determining genes. 
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  6. Abstract

    The mechanisms connecting environmental conditions to plasticity in biological aging trajectories are fundamental to understanding individual variation in functional traits and life history. Recent findings suggest that telomere biology is especially dynamic during early life stages and has long‐term consequences for subsequent reproduction and survival. However, our current understanding is mostly derived from studies investigating ecological and anthropogenic factors separately, leaving the effects of complex environmental interactions unresolved. American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) are long‐lived apex predators that rely on incubation temperature during a discrete period during development and endocrine cues to determine sex, making them especially vulnerable to current climatic variability and exposure to anthropogenic contaminants interfering with hormone function. Here, we combine field studies with a factorial design to understand how the developmental environment, along with intrinsic biological variation contribute to persistent telomere variation. We found that exposure to a common endocrine disrupting contaminant, DDE, affects telomere length, but that the directionality is highly dependent upon incubation temperature. Variation in hatchling growth, underlies a strong clutch effect. We also assess concentrations of a panel of glucocorticoid hormones and find that contaminant exposure elicits an increase in circulating glucocorticoids. Consistent with emerging evidence linking stress and aging trajectories, GC levels also appear to trend with shorter telomere length. Thus, we add support for a mechanistic link between contaminants and glucocorticoid signalling, which interacts with ecological aspects of the developmental environment to alter telomere dynamics.

     
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