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Open Access Research article

Genomic organization and splicing evolution of the doublesex gene, a Drosophila regulator of sexual differentiation, in the dengue and yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti

Marco Salvemini1, Umberto Mauro12, Fabrizio Lombardo3, Andreina Milano1, Vincenzo Zazzaro1, Bruno Arcà34, Lino C Polito15 and Giuseppe Saccone1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biological Sciences - Section of Genetics and Molecular Biology. University of Naples "Federico II" - Italy

2 CDF - Centro Diagnostico Flegreo, Naples - Italy

3 Department of Public Health - Parasitology Section. University of Rome "La Sapienza" - Italy

4 Department of Structural and Functional Biology. University of Naples "Federico II" - Italy

5 Institute of Genetics and Biophysics "Adriano Buzzati-Traverso" CNR Naples - Italy

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2011, 11:41  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-41

Published: 10 February 2011

Abstract

Background

In the model system Drosophila melanogaster, doublesex (dsx) is the double-switch gene at the bottom of the somatic sex determination cascade that determines the differentiation of sexually dimorphic traits. Homologues of dsx are functionally conserved in various dipteran species, including the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae. They show a striking conservation of sex-specific regulation, based on alternative splicing, and of the encoded sex-specific proteins, which are transcriptional regulators of downstream terminal genes that influence sexual differentiation of cells, tissues and organs.

Results

In this work, we report on the molecular characterization of the dsx homologue in the dengue and yellow fever vector Aedes aegypti (Aeadsx). Aeadsx produces sex-specific transcripts by alternative splicing, which encode isoforms with a high degree of identity to Anopheles gambiae and Drosophila melanogaster homologues. Interestingly, Aeadsx produces an additional novel female-specific splicing variant. Genomic comparative analyses between the Aedes and Anopheles dsx genes revealed a partial conservation of the exon organization and extensive divergence in the intron lengths. An expression analysis showed that Aeadsx transcripts were present from early stages of development and that sex-specific regulation starts at least from late larval stages. The analysis of the female-specific untranslated region (UTR) led to the identification of putative regulatory cis-elements potentially involved in the sex-specific splicing regulation. The Aedes dsx sex-specific splicing regulation seems to be more complex with the respect of other dipteran species, suggesting slightly novel evolutionary trajectories for its regulation and hence for the recruitment of upstream splicing regulators.

Conclusions

This study led to uncover the molecular evolution of Aedes aegypti dsx splicing regulation with the respect of the more closely related Culicidae Anopheles gambiae orthologue. In Aedes aegypti, the dsx gene is sex-specifically regulated and encodes two female-specific and one male-specific isoforms, all sharing a doublesex/mab-3 (DM) domain-containing N-terminus and different C-termini. The sex-specific regulation is based on a combination of exon skipping, 5' alternative splice site choice and, most likely, alternative polyadenylation. Interestingly, when the Aeadsx gene is compared to the Anopheles dsx ortholog, there are differences in the in silico predicted default and regulated sex-specific splicing events, which suggests that the upstream regulators either are different or act in a slightly different manner. Furthermore, this study is a premise for the future development of transgenic sexing strains in mosquitoes useful for sterile insect technique (SIT) programs.