A nonfunctional copy of the salmonid sex-determining gene (sdY) is responsible for the “apparent” XY females in Chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha

Sylvain Bertho, Amaury Herpin, Elodie Jouanno, Ayaka Yano, Julien Bobe, Hugues Parrinello, Laurent Journot, Rene Guyomard, Thomas Muller, Penny Swanson, Garrett McKinney, Kevin Williamson, Mariah Meek, Manfred Schartl, Yann Guiguen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Many salmonids have a male heterogametic (XX/XY) sex determination system, and they are supposed to have a conserved master sex-determining gene (sdY) that interacts at the protein level with Foxl2 leading to the blockage of the synergistic induction of Foxl2 and Nr5a1 of the cyp19a1a promoter. However, this hypothesis of a conserved master sex-determining role of sdY in salmonids is challenged by a few exceptions, one of them being the presence of naturally occurring “apparent” XY Chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, females. Here, we show that some XY Chinook salmon females have a sdY gene (sdY-N183), with 1 missense mutation leading to a substitution of a conserved isoleucine to an asparagine (I183N). In contrast, Chinook salmon males have both a nonmutated sdY-I183 gene and the missense mutation sdY-N183 gene. The 3-dimensional model of SdY-I183N predicts that the I183N hydrophobic to hydrophilic amino acid change leads to a modification in the SdY b-sandwich structure. Using in vitro cell transfection assays, we found that SdY-I183N, like the wild-type SdY, is preferentially localized in the cytoplasm. However, compared to wild-type SdY, SdY-I183N is more prone to degradation, its nuclear translocation by Foxl2 is reduced, and SdY-I183N is unable to significantly repress the synergistic Foxl2/Nr5a1 induction of the cyp19a1a promoter. Altogether, our results suggest that the sdY-N183 gene of XY Chinook females is nonfunctional and that SdYI183N is no longer able to promote testicular differentiation by impairing the synthesis of estrogens in the early differentiating gonads of wild Chinook salmon XY females.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjkab451
JournalG3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Salmonids
  • SdY
  • Sex determination
  • Sex reversal
  • XY females


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