Epigenetic Control of Gonadal Aromatase (cyp19a1) in Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination of Red-Eared Slider Turtles
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In the red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta), a species with temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), the expression of the aromatase gene during gonad development is strictly limited to the female-producing temperature. The underlying mechanism remains unknown. In this study, we identified the upstream 5′-flanking region of the aromatase gene, gonad-specific promoter, and the temperature-dependent DNA methylation signatures during gonad development in the red-eared slider turtle. The 5′-flanking region of the slider aromatase exhibited sequence similarities to the aromatase genes of the American alligator, chicken, quail, and zebra finch. A putative TATA box was located 31 bp upstream of the gonad-specific transcription start site. DNA methylation at the CpG sites between the putative binding sites of the fork head domain factor (FOX) and vertebrate steroidogenic factor 1 (SF1) and adjacent TATA box in the promoter region were significantly lower in embryonic gonads at the female-producing temperature compared the male-producing temperature. A shift from male- to female-, but not from female- to male-, producing temperature changed the level of DNA methylation in gonads. Taken together these results indicate that the temperature, particularly female-producing temperature, allows demethylation at the specific CpG sites of the promoter region which leads the temperature-specific expression of aromatase during gonad development.