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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

Sex determination in the germ line of Drosophila depends on genetic signals and inductive somatic factors.

We have analyzed the mechanism of sex determination in the germ line of Drosophila by manipulating three parameters: (1) the ratio of X-chromosomes to sets of autosomes (X:A); (2) the state of activity of the gene Sex-lethal (Sxl), and (3) the sex of the gonadal soma. To this end, animals with a ratio of 2X:2A and 2X:3A were sexually transformed into pseudomales by mutations at the sex-determining genes Sxl (Sex-lethal), tra (transformer), tra-2 (transformer-2), or dsx (double-sex). Animals with the karyotype 2X;3A were also transformed into pseudofemales by the constitutive mutation SxlM1. The sexual phenotype of the gonads and of the germ cells was assessed by phase-contrast microscopy. Confirming the conclusions of Steinmann-Zwicky et al. (Cell 57, 157, 1989), we found that all three parameters affect sex determination in germ cells. In contrast to the soma in which sex determination is completely cell-autonomous, sex determination in the germ line has a non-autonomous component inasmuch as the sex of the soma can influence the sexual pathway of the germ cells. Somatic induction has a clear effect on 2X;2A germ cells that carry a Sxl+ allele. These cells, which form eggs in an ovary, can enter spermatogenesis in testes. Mutations that cause partial loss of function or gain of function of Sxl thwart somatic induction and, independently of the sex of the soma, dictate spermatogenesis or oogenesis, respectively. Somatic induction has a much weaker effect on 2X;3A germ cells. This ratio is essentially a male signal for germ cells which consistently enter spermatogenesis in testes, even when they carry SxlM1. In a female soma, however, SxlM1 enables the 2X;3A germ cells to form almost normal eggs. Our results show that sex determination in the germ line is more complex than in the soma. They provide further evidence that the state of Sxl, the key gene for sex determination and dosage compensation in the soma, also determines the sex of the germ cells, and that, in the germ line, the state of activity of Sxl is regulated not only by the X:A ratio, but also by somatic inductive stimuli.[1]


  1. Sex determination in the germ line of Drosophila depends on genetic signals and inductive somatic factors. Nöthiger, R., Jonglez, M., Leuthold, M., Meier-Gerschwiler, P., Weber, T. Development (1989) [Pubmed]
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