Crustacean intersexuality is feminisation without demasculinisation: implications for environmental toxicology

Stephen Short, Gongda Yang, Yasmin Guler, Amaia Green Etxabe, Peter Kille, Alex Ford

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The dysfunction associated with intersexuality in vertebrates and molluscs is often a serious threat to ecosystems. Although poorly understood, crustacean intersexuality is associated with contamination and includes forms linked to increased sex-ratio distorting parasites at polluted sites. Despite the importance of crustaceans for monitoring vulnerable aquatic habitats, little is known about the molecular basis of this abnormal sexual differentiation and any associated sexual dysfunction. To increase the relevance of crustaceans to environmental toxicologists, we comprehensively analyzed gene expression in amphipods presenting parasite- and nonparasite-associated intersexuality. Our findings reveal existing vertebrate biomarkers of feminization should not be applied to crustaceans, as orthologous genes are not induced in feminized amphipods. Furthermore, in contrast to vertebrates, where feminization and intersexuality is often associated with deleterious demasculinization, we find males maintain masculinity even when unambiguously feminized. This reveals a considerable regulatory separation of the gene pathways responsible for male and female characteristics and demonstrates that evidence of feminization (even if detected with appropriate biomarkers) is not a proxy for demasculinization in crustaceans. This study has also produced a comprehensive spectrum of potential molecular biomarkers that, when combined with our new molecular understanding, will greatly facilitate the use of crustaceans to monitor aquatic habitats.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13520-13529
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2014


  • RCUK
  • NERC
  • NE/G004587/1


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