Temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD) was first discovered in reptiles. Since then, a great diversity of sex-determining responses to temperature has been reported. Higher temperatures can produce either males or females, and the temperature ranges and lengths of exposure that influence TSD are remarkably variable among species. In addition, transitory gene regulatory networks leading to gonadal TSD have evolved. Although most genes involved in gonadal development are conserved in vertebrates, including TSD species, temporal and spatial gene expression patterns vary among species. Despite variation in TSD pattern and gene expression heterochrony, the structural framework, the medullary cords, and cortex of the bipotential gonad have been strongly conserved. Aromatase (CYP19), which regulates gonadal estrogen levels, is proposed to be the main target of a putative thermosensitive factor for TSD. However, manipulation of estrogen levels rarely mimics the precise timing of temperature effects on expression of gonadal genes, as occurs with TSD. Estrogen levels may influence sex determination or gonad differentiation depending on the species. Furthermore, the process leading to sex determination under the influence of temperature poses problems that are not encountered by species with genetic sex determination. Yolk steroids of maternal origin and steroids produced by the embryonic nervous system should also be considered as sources of hormones that may play a role in TSD.

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