Open Access Open Badges Research article

Regulation and expression of sexual differentiation factors in embryonic and extragonadal tissues of Atlantic salmon

Kristian R von Schalburg1, Motoshige Yasuike1, Ryosuke Yazawa2, Johan G de Boer1, Linda Reid1, Stacy So1, Adrienne Robb1, Eric B Rondeau1, Ruth B Phillips3, William S Davidson4 and Ben F Koop1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Centre for Biomedical Research, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 3N5, Canada

2 Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, Tateyama, Chiba, 294-0308, Japan

3 Biological Sciences, Washington State University, Vancouver, Washington, 98686-9600, USA

4 Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, V5A 1S6, Canada

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Genomics 2011, 12:31  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-31

Published: 13 January 2011



The products of cyp19, dax, foxl2, mis, sf1 and sox9 have each been associated with sex-determining processes among vertebrates. We provide evidence for expression of these regulators very early in salmonid development and in tissues outside of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal/gonadal (HPAG) axis. Although the function of these factors in sexual differentiation have been defined, their roles in early development before sexual fate decisions and in tissues beyond the brain or gonad are essentially unknown.


Bacterial artificial chromosomes containing salmon dax1 and dax2, foxl2b and mis were isolated and the regulatory regions that control their expression were characterized. Transposon integrations are implicated in the shaping of the dax and foxl2 loci. Splice variants for cyp19b1 and mis in both embryonic and adult tissues were detected and characterized. We found that cyp19b1 transcripts are generated that contain 5'-untranslated regions of different lengths due to cryptic splicing of the 3'-end of intron 1. We also demonstrate that salmon mis transcripts can encode prodomain products that present different C-termini and terminate before translation of the MIS hormone. Regulatory differences in the expression of two distinct aromatases cyp19a and cyp19b1 are exerted, despite transcription of their transactivators (ie; dax1, foxl2, sf1) occurring much earlier during embryonic development.


We report the embryonic and extragonadal expression of dax, foxl2, mis and other differentiation factors that indicate that they have functions that are more general and not restricted to steroidogenesis and gonadogenesis. Spliced cyp19b1 and mis transcripts are generated that may provide regulatory controls for tissue- or development-specific activities. Selection of cyp19b1 transcripts may be regulated by DAX-1, FOXL2 and SF-1 complexes that bind motifs in intron 1, or by signals within exon 2 that recruit splicing factors, or both. The potential translation of proteins bearing only the N-terminal MIS prodomain may modulate the functions of other TGF β family members in different tissues. The expression patterns of dax1 early in salmon embryogenesis implicate its role as a lineage determination factor. Other roles for these factors during embryogenesis and outside the HPAG axis are discussed.