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Role of Epigenetics in gender differentiation of the developing brain


A topic that has long fascinated neurobiologists is to understand gender differentiation in the brain during prenatal development. By default, developing mammalian brain is destined to have a female phenotype unless exposed early on in the pregnancy to gonadal hormones which has been well known to mediate sexual differentiation in mammals during brain development. Until recently, a more traditional view had a simplistic and straight forward explanation of masculinization. This involved induction of transcription by ligand-activated nuclear steroid receptors which in turn controlled expression of genes critical to the developing brain.

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have shown that “Brain feminization requires active repression of masculinization via DNA methylation”. They revealed that estradiol which is a testosterone derivative, can trigger a mechanism by which certain genes in the brain are “unsilenced,” allowing them to initiate the process of masculinization. In their studies, they found that a primary target of gonadal steroids is the highly sexually dimorphic preoptic area (POA) is to reduce activity of DNA methyltransferase (Dnmt) enzymes, thereby releasing masculinizing genes from epigenetic repression.

Is it possible to specifically induce male genetic programming during development and choose a desired gender? Would you be willing as a parent to choose the gender of your kids? Will this decision have impact on our society? Does gene expression profile get altered in the brains of adult females following gonadectomy?

What do you think?

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