Background: The cladoceran crustacean Daphnia pulex produces female offspring by parthenogenesis under favorable conditions, but in response to various unfavorable external stimuli, it produces male offspring (environmental sex determination: ESD). We recently established an innovative system for ESD studies using D. pulex WTN6 strain, in which the sex of the offspring can be controlled simply by changes in the photoperiod: the long-day and short-day conditions can induce female and male offspring, respectively. Taking advantage of this system, we demonstrated that de novo methyl farnesoate (MF) synthesis is necessary for male offspring production. These results indicate the key role of innate MF signaling as a conductor between external environmental stimuli and the endogenous male developmental pathway. Despite these findings, the molecular mechanisms underlying up- and downstream signaling of MF have not yet been well elucidated in D. pulex. Results: To elucidate up- and downstream events of MF signaling during sex determination processes, we compared the transcriptomes of daphnids reared under the long-day (female) condition with short-day (male) and MF-treated (male) conditions. We found that genes involved in ionotropic glutamate receptors, known to mediate the vast majority of excitatory neurotransmitting processes in various organisms, were significantly activated in daphnids by the short-day condition but not by MF treatment. Administration of specific agonists and antagonists, especially for the N-methyl-D-aspartic acid (NMDA) receptor, strongly increased or decreased, respectively, the proportion of male-producing mothers. Moreover, we also identified genes responsible for male production (e.g., protein kinase C pathway-related genes). Such genes were generally shared between the short-day reared and MF-treated daphnids. Conclusions: We identified several candidate genes regulating ESD which strongly suggests that these genes may be essential factors for male offspring production as an upstream regulator of MF signaling in D. pulex. This study provides new insight into the fundamental mechanisms underlying how living organisms alter their phenotypes in response to various external environments.
- Daphnia pulex
- Environmental sex determination
- Ionotropic glutamate receptors
- Juvenile hormone
- Methyl farnesoate