Androgen directs sexual differentiation of laryngeal innervation in developing Xenopus laevis. Academic Article uri icon


  • In adult Xenopus laevis, innervation of the vocal organ is more robust in males than in females. This sex difference originates during tadpole development; at stage 56, when the gonads first differentiate, the number of axons entering the larynx is the same in the sexes, but by stage 62, innervation is greater in males. To determine if androgen secretion establishes sex differences in axon number, we treated tadpoles with antiandrogen or androgen beginning at stage 48 or 54 and counted laryngeal nerve axons at stage 62 using electron microscopy. When male tadpoles were treated with the antiandrogen hydroxyflutamide, axon numbers were reduced to female-typical values; axon numbers in females were unaffected by antiandrogen treatment. When female tadpoles were treated with the androgen DHT (dihydrotestosterone), axon numbers were increased to male-like values. These findings suggest that endogenous androgen secretion during late tadpole stages in males is required for the sexual differentiation of laryngeal innervation observed from stage 62 on. Because androgen treatment and laryngeal innervation affect myogenesis in postmetamorphic frogs, numbers of laryngeal dilator muscle fibers were determined for hormonally manipulated tadpoles. At stage 62, vehicle-treated males had more laryngeal axons than females; laryngeal muscle fiber numbers did not, however, differ in the sexes. Both male and female tadpoles, treated from stage 54 with DHT, had more muscle fibers at stage 62 than vehicle-treated controls. Thus, while endogenous androgen secretion during late tadpole stages is subthreshold for the establishment of masculinized muscle fiber numbers, laryngeal myogenesis is androgen sensitive at this time and can be increased by suprathreshold provision of exogenous DHT. A subgroup of tadpoles, DHT treated from stage 54 to 62, was allowed to survive, untreated, until postmetamorphic stage 2 (PM2: 5 months after metamorphosis is complete). Androgen treatment between tadpole stages 54 and 62 does not prevent the ontogenetic decrease in axon numbers characteristic of laryngeal development. In addition, the elevation in stage 62 axon numbers produced by DHT-treatment at late tadpole stages was not associated with elevated numbers of laryngeal muscle fibers at PM2. Juvenile males normally maintain elevated axon numbers (relative to final adult values) through PM2 and the presence of these additional axons may result from--rather than contribute directly to--laryngeal muscle fiber addition.

publication date

  • December 1994