Effects of incubation temperature and estrogen exposure on aromatase activity in the brain and gonads of embryonic alligators.

Environmental health perspectives

PubMedID: 12060834

Milnes MR, Roberts RN, Guillette LJ. Effects of incubation temperature and estrogen exposure on aromatase activity in the brain and gonads of embryonic alligators. Environ Health Perspect. 2002;110 Suppl 3393-6.
During embryogenesis, incubation temperature and the hormonal environment influence gonadal differentiation of some reptiles, including all crocodilians. Current evidence suggests that aromatase, the enzyme that converts androgens to estrogens, has a role in sexual differentiation of species that exhibit temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD). During the temperature-sensitive period (TSP) of sex determination, we compared aromatase activity in the brain and gonads of putative male and female alligator embryos to determine if aromatase activity in the embryonic brain could provide the hormonal environment necessary for ovarian development in a TSD species. In addition, we assessed the pattern of aromatase activity in the brain and gonads of embryos treated with estradiol-17beta (E(2)) and incubated at male-producing temperatures to compare enzyme activity in E(2) sex-reversed females to control males and females. This has particular significance regarding wildlife species living in areas contaminated with suspected environmental estrogens. Gonadal aromatase activity remained low during the early stages of the TSP in both sexes and increased late in the TSP only in females. Aromatase activity in the brain increased prior to gonadal differentiation in both sexes. These results suggest that aromatase activity in the brain is not directly responsible for mediating differentiation of the gonad. E(2) exposure at male-producing temperatures resulted in sex-reversed females that had intermediate gonad function and masculinized brain activity. This study indicates the need to examine multiple end points and to determine the persistence of developmental alterations in contaminant-exposed wildlife populations.