Fish Physiology and Biochemistry

, Volume 43, Issue 6, pp 1557–1569 | Cite as

Dimorphic expression of sex-related genes in different gonadal development stages of sterlet, Acipenser ruthenus, a primitive fish species

  • Wei Wang
  • Hua Zhu
  • Ying Dong
  • ZhaoHui Tian
  • Tian Dong
  • HongXia HuEmail author
  • CuiJuan NiuEmail author


Molecular mechanism of sex determination and differentiation of sturgeon, a primitive fish species, is extraordinarily important due to the valuable caviar; however, it is still poorly known. The present work aimed to identify the major genes involved in regulating gonadal development of sterlet, a small species of sturgeon, from 13 candidate genes which have been shown to relate to gonadal differentiation and development in other teleost fish. The sex and gonadal development of sterlets were determined by histological observation and levels of sex steroids testosterone (T), 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT), and 17β-estradiol (E2) in serum. Sexually dimorphic gene expressions were investigated. The results revealed that gonadal development were asynchronous in 2-year-old male and female sterlets with the testes in early or mid-spermatogenesis and the ovaries in chromatin nucleolus stage or perinucleolus stage, respectively. The levels of T and E2 were not significantly different between sexes or different gonadal development stages while 11-KT had the higher level in mid-spermatogenesis testis stage. In all the investigated gonadal development stages, gene dmrt1 and hsd11b2 were expressed higher in male whereas foxl2 and cyp19a1 were expressed higher in female. Thus, these genes provided the promising markers for sex identification of sterlet. It was unexpected that dkk1 and dax1 had significantly higher expression in ovarian perinucleolus stage than in ovarian chromatin nucleolus stage and in the testis, suggesting that these two genes had more correlation with ovarian development than with the testis, contrary to the previous reports in other vertebrates. Testicular development-related genes (gsdf and amh) and estrogen receptor genes (era and erb) differentially expressed at different testis or ovary development stages, but their expressions were not absolutely significantly different in male and female, depending on the gonadal development stage. Expression of androgen receptor gene ar or rspo, which was supposed to be related to ovarian development, presented no difference between gonadal development stages investigated in this study whenever in male or female.


Acipenser ruthenus Sex development cyp19a1 foxl2 dmrt1 hsd11b2 dax1 dkk1 



The authors are grateful to the staff of Sturgeon Breeding Farm of the State (Beijing, China) for providing fish and to lab’s colleagues for fish sampling. We appreciate Jing Zhang from the University of Ottawa, for improving the language. This project was supported by Foundation Project of Ministry of Science and Technology (2015BAD25B01), Beijing Agriculture Committee (SCGWZJ20121102-1), and Beijing Natural Science Foundation (No. 6142009).


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Beijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.National Freshwater Fisheries Engineering Technology Research Center, Ministry of Science and Technology of China, Beijing Key Laboratory of Fishery Biotechnology (No. BZ0301)Beijing Fisheries Research InstituteBeijingChina

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