Sox9 is a transcription factor required for cartilage formation and testis determination in mammals. We have cloned from zebrafish two sox9 genes, termed sox9a and sox9b. Gene phylogenies showed that both genes are orthologous to tetrapod SOX9 genes. Genetic mapping showed that these two loci reside on chromosome segments that were apparently duplicated in a large-scale genomic duplication event in ray fin fish phylogeny. Both Sox9a and Sox9b proteins bind to the HMG consensus DNA sequences in vitro. We tested different domains for transactivation potential and identified a potential activation domain located in the middle of both Sox9a and Sox9b. During embryogenesis, sox9a and sox9b expression patterns are distinct but overlap in some regions of the brain, head skeleton, and fins. Expression of sox9a/b correlates well with that of col2a1 in chondrogenic elements. In the adults, sox9a is expressed in many tissues including brain, muscle, fin, and testis, whereas sox9b expression is restricted to previtellogenic oocytes of the ovary. This expression pattern predicts that sox9a and sox9b may have unique functions in some specific tissues during development. The role of gene duplication for the evolution of developmental gene function is discussed.
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