Sex hormones and the development of sexual size dimorphism: 5α-dihydrotestosterone inhibits growth in a female-larger lizard (Sceloporus undulatus)

Nicholas B. Pollock, Stephanie Feigin, Marko Drazenovic, Henry B. John-Alder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

Sexual differences in adult body size [sexual size dimorphism (SSD)] and color (sexual dichromatism) are widespread, and both male- and female-biased dimorphisms are observed even among closely related species. A growing body of evidence indicates testosterone can regulate growth, thus the development of SSD, and sexual dichromatism. However, the mechanism(s) underlying these effects are conjectural, including possible conversions of testosterone to estradiol (E2) or 5α-dihydrotestosterone (DHT). In the present study, we hypothesized that the effects of testosterone are physiological responses mediated by androgen receptors, and we tested two specific predictions: (1) that DHT would mimic the effects of testosterone by inhibiting growth and enhancing coloration, and (2) that removal of endogenous testosterone via surgical castration would stimulate growth. We also hypothesized that females share downstream regulatory networks with males and predicted that females and males would respond similarly to DHT. We conducted experiments on eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus), a female-larger species with striking sexual dichromatism. We implanted Silastic tubules containing 150 g DHT into intact females and intact and castrated males. We measured linear growth rates and quantified color for ventral and dorsal surfaces. We found that DHT decreased growth rate and enhanced maletypical coloration in both males and females. We also found that, given adequate time, castration alone is sufficient to stimulate growth rate in males. The results presented here suggest that: (1) the effects of testosterone on growth and coloration are mediated by androgen receptors without requiring aromatization of testosterone into E2, and (2) females possess the androgen-receptor-mediated regulatory networks required for initiating male-typical inhibition of growth and enhanced coloration in response to androgens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4068-4077
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Volume220
Issue number21
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science

Keywords

  • Body size
  • Color
  • Dichromatism
  • SSD
  • Testosterone

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