Zebrafish cyp11c1 knockout reveals the roles of 11-ketotestosterone and cortisol in sexual development and reproduction

Androgen is essential for male development and cortisol is involved in reproduction in fishes. However, the in vivo roles of cortisol and specific androgens such as 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT) in reproductive development need to be described with genetic models. Zebrafish cyp11c1 encodes 11β-hydroxylase which is essential for the biosynthesis of 11-KT and cortisol. In this study, we generated a zebrafish mutant of cyp11c1 (cyp11c1-/-) and utilized it to clarify the roles of 11-KT and cortisol in sexual development and reproduction. The cyp11c1-/- fish had smaller genital papilla and exhibited defective natural mating, but possessed mature gametes and were found at a sex ratio comparable to the wildtype control. The cyp11c1-/- males showed delayed and prolonged juvenile ovary-to-testis transition, and displayed defective spermatogenesis at adult stage, which could be rescued by treatment with 11-ketoandrostenedione (11-KA) at certain stages. Specifically, during testis development of cyp11c1-/- males, the expression of insl3cyp17a1, and amh was significantly decreased, suggesting that 11-KT is essential for the development and function of Leydig cells and Sertoli cells. Further, spermatogenesis-related dmrt1 was subsequently downregulated, leading to insufficient spermatogenesis. The cyp11c1-/- females showed a reduction in egg spawning and a failure of in vitro germinal vesicle breakdown, which could be partially rescued by cortisol treatment. Taken together, our study reveals that zebrafish Cyp11c1 is not required for definite sex differentiation, but is essential for juvenile ovary-to-testis transition, Leydig cell development and spermatogenesis in males through 11-KT, and it is also involved in oocyte maturation and ovulation in females through cortisol.