The differentiation of a testis or ovary from a bipotential gonadal primordium is a developmental process common to mammals, birds and reptiles. Since the discovery of SRY, the Y-linked testis-determining gene in mammals, extensive efforts have failed to find its orthologue in other vertebrates, indicating evolutionary plasticity in the switch that triggers sex determination. Several other genes are known to be important for sex determination in mammals, such as SOX9, AMH, WT1, SF1, DAX1 and DMRT1. Analyses of these genes in humans with gonadal dysgenesis, mouse models and using in vitro cell culture assays have revealed that sex determination results from a complex interplay between the genes in this network. All of these genes are conserved in other vertebrates, such as chickens and alligators, and show gonad-specific expression in these species during the period of sex determination. Intriguingly, the sequence, sex specificity and timing of expression of some of these genes during sex determination differ among species. This finding indicates that the interplay between genes in the regulatory network leading to gonad development differs between vertebrates. However, despite this, the development of a testis or ovary from a bipotential gonad is remarkably similar across vertebrates.
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