Intersex Gonad Differentiation in Cultured Russian (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) and Siberian (Acipenser baerii) Sturgeon1
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Among sturgeons, the occurrence of individuals with gonads containing both testis and ovary components is considered pathological, and such fish are described as intersex individuals or intersexes. Intersexes are observed in both wild and cultured populations of sturgeon, usually at low frequencies. In the present study, intersex Russian (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii) and Siberian (Acipenser baerii) sturgeons constituted 30% of the studied populations. Macroscopically, intersex gonads were recognizable from 500 days posthatching (dph). Initially, gonads with predominantly male characteristics (testis-ova) were observed, but in older fish gonads with predominantly female traits (ova-testis) were more frequent. Using microscopic analysis, intersex gonads were discernible by 130-200 dph. Observations of intersex germinal epithelium development and analysis of sex distribution in the study populations indicated that feminization was occurring. Histological analysis revealed that differentiation of the germinal epithelium in such gonads was accompanied by various morphological alterations (transformations) that were described using quantitative and localization criteria. The most common type of transformations, massive subepithelial transformations, was manifested by the presence of abundant female germinal tissue located under the gonad surface epithelium in the developing testis. These transformations were identified in the early development stage (100-200 dph). In this type of transformation, differentiation of female germinal tissue at the gonad surface and male tissue at the mesorchium/mesovarium resulted in complete formation of both male and female germinal epithelia within the same gonad.
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