Sex-specific and developmental expression of Dmrt genes in the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis

Nikki G. Traylor-Knowles, Eric G. Kane, Vanna Sombatsaphay, John R. Finnerty, Adam M. Reitzel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The molecular mechanisms underlying sex determination and differentiation in animals are incredibly diverse. The Dmrt (doublesex and mab-3 related transcription factor) gene family is an evolutionary ancient group of transcription factors dating to the ancestor of metazoans that are, in part, involved in sex determination and differentiation in numerous bilaterian animals and thus represents a potentially conserved mechanism for differentiating males and females dating to the protostome-deuterostome ancestor. Recently, the diversity of this gene family throughout animals has been described, but the expression and potential function for Dmrt genes is not well understood outside the bilaterians. Results: Here, we report sex- and developmental-specific expression of all 11 Dmrts in the starlet sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. Nine out of the eleven Dmrts showed significant differences in developmental expression, with the highest expression typically in the adult stage and, in some cases, with little or no expression measured during embryogenesis. When expression was compared in females and males, seven of the eleven Dmrt genes had significant differences in expression with higher expression in males than in females for six of the genes. Lastly, expressions of two Dmrt genes with differential expression in each sex are located in the mesenteries and into the pharynx in polyps. Conclusions: Our results show that the phylogenetic diversity of Dmrt genes in N. vectensis is matched by an equally diverse pattern of expression during development and in each sex. This dynamic expression suggests multiple functions for Dmrt genes likely present in early diverging metazoans. Detailed functional analyses of individual genes will inform hypotheses regarding the antiquity of function for these transcription factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 25 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • DMRT
  • Gene expression
  • Nematostella vectensis
  • Sex determination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Developmental Biology


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