Annual Reviews Electronic Back Volume Collection 1932-2001ff
Abstract The acquisition of a sexually dimorphic phenotype is a critical event in mammalian development. Although the maturation of sexual function and reproduction occurs after birth, essentially all of the critical developmental steps take place during embryogenesis. Temporally, these steps can be divided into two different phases: sex determination, the initial event that determines whether the gonads will develop as testes or ovaries; and sexual differentiation, the subsequent events that ultimately produce either the male or the female sexual phenotype. A basic tenet of sexual development in mammals is that genetic sex-determined by the presence or absence of the Y chromosome-directs the embryonic gonads to differentiate into either testes or ovaries. Thereafter, hormones produced by the testes direct the developmental program leading to male sexual differentiation. In the absence of testicular hormones, the pathway of sexual differentiation is female. This chapter reviews the anatomic and cellular changes that constitute sexual differentiation and discusses SRY and other genes, including SF-1, WT1, DAX-1, and SOX9, that play key developmental roles in this process. Dose-dependent interactions among these genes are critical for sex determination and differentiation.
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