Sex determination: insights from the silkworm
doublesex; W chromosome; Bombyx mori; alternative splicing.
The sex-determining system differs considerably among organisms. Even among insect species, the genetic system for sex-determination is highly diversified. In Drosophila melanogaster, somatic sexual differentiation is regulated by a well characterized genetic hierarchy X : A > Sxl > tra/tra2 > dsx and fru. This cascade seems to control sex determination in all Drosophila species and is partially conserved in another dipteran species, Ceratitis capitata: Cctra/Cctra-2 > Ccdsx and Ccfru. However, in the silkworm, Bombyx mori, femaleness is determined by the presence of a dominant feminizing factor on the W chromosome. Moreover, no sex-specific regulatory Sxl homolog has been isolated from B. mori. Also, no tra homolog has yet been found in the Bombyx genome. Despite such differences, dsx homolog of B. mori (Bmdsx) is implicated in the sex determination. Bmdsx produces alternatively spliced mRNA isoforms that encode sex specific transcription factors as observed in dsx. While the female-specific splicing of dsx is activated by splicing activators, Tra and Tra2, the female splicing of Bmdsx represents the default mode. Instead, a splicing inhibitor, BmPSI is involved in the regulation of male-specific splicing of Bmdsx. Since BmPSI does not exhibit any sequence relationship to known SR proteins, such as Tra and Tra2, the regulatory mechanism of sex-specific alternative splicing of Bmdsx is distinct from that of dsx.