Active feminization of the preoptic area occurs independently of the gonads in Amphiprion ocellaris

Logan D. Dodd, Ewelina Nowak, Dominica Lange, Coltan G. Parker, Ross DeAngelis, Jose A. Gonzalez, Justin S. Rhodes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sex differences in the anatomy and physiology of the vertebrate preoptic area (POA) arise during development, and influence sex-specific reproductive functions later in life. Relative to masculinization, mechanisms for feminization of the POA are not well understood. The purpose of this study was to induce sex change from male to female in the anemonefish Amphiprion ocellaris, and track the timing of changes in POA cytoarchitecture, composition of the gonads and circulating sex steroid levels. Reproductive males were paired together and then sampled after 3 weeks, 6 months, 1 year and 3 years. Results show that as males change sex into females, number of medium cells in the anterior POA (parvocellular region) approximately double to female levels over the course of several months to 1 year. Feminization of gonads, and plasma sex steroids occur independently, on a variable timescale, up to years after POA sex change has completed. Findings suggest the process of POA feminization is orchestrated by factors originating from within the brain as opposed to being cued from the gonads, consistent with the dominant hypothesis in mammals. Anemonefish provide an opportunity to explore active mechanisms responsible for female brain development in an individual with male gonads and circulating sex steroid levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-76
Number of pages12
JournalHormones and Behavior
StatePublished - Jun 2019


  • Anemonefish
  • Brain sex
  • Clownfish
  • Estradiol
  • GnRH
  • Gonadal differentiation
  • Protandry
  • Sex change
  • Sexual dimorphism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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