The brain of teleost fish exhibits a significant degree of sexual plasticity, even in adulthood. This unique feature is almost certainly attributable to a teleost-specific sexual differentiation process of the brain, which remains largely unknown. To dissect the molecular basis of sexual differentiation of the teleost brain, we searched for genes differentially expressed between both sexes in the medaka brain. One gene identified in the screen, cyp19a1b, which encodes the steroidogenic enzyme aromatase, was selected for further analysis. As opposed to the situation in most vertebrates, medaka cyp19a1b is expressed at higher levels in the adult female brain than the male brain. The female-biased expression in the brain is consistent regardless of reproductive or diurnal cycle. Medaka cyp19a1b is expressed throughout the ventricular zones in wide areas of the brain, where, in most regions, females have a greater degree of expression compared to males, with the optic tectum exhibiting the most conspicuous predominance in females. Contrary to what is known in mammals, cyp19a1b expression exhibits neither a transient elevation nor a sex difference in medaka embryos. It is not until just before the onset of puberty that cyp19a1b expression in the medaka brain is sexually differentiated. Finally, cyp19a1b expression in the medaka brain is not under the direct control of sex chromosome genes but relies mostly, if not solely, on oestrogen derived from the gonad. These unique properties of aromatase expression in the brain probably contribute substantially to the less rigid sexual differentiation process, thus ensuring remarkable sexual plasticity in the teleost brain.
K. Okubo, Takeuchi, A., Chaube, R., Dr. Bindhu Paul, Kanda, S., Oka, Y., and Nagahama, Y., “Sex differences in aromatase gene expression in the medaka brain”, Journal of neuroendocrinology, vol. 23, pp. 412–423, 2011.