How Many Non-coding RNAs Does It Take to Compensate Male/Female Genetic Imbalance?
Genetic sex determination in mammals relies on dimorphic sex chromosomes that confer phenotypic/physiologic differences between males and females. In this heterogametic system, X and Y chromosomes diverged from an ancestral pair of autosomes, creating a genetic disequilibrium between XX females and XY males. Dosage compensation mechanisms alleviate intrinsic gene dosage imbalance, leading to equal expression levels of most X-linked genes in the two sexes. In therian mammals, this is achieved through inactivation of one of the two X chromosomes in females. Failure to undergo X-chromosome inactivation (XCI) results in developmental arrest and death. Although fundamental for survival, a surprising loose conservation in the mechanisms to achieve XCI during development in therian lineage has been, and continues, to be uncovered. XCI involves the concerted action of non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), including the well-known Xist RNA, and has thus become a classical paradigm to study the mode of action of this particular class of transcripts. In this chapter, we will describe the processes coping with sex chromosome genetic imbalance and how ncRNAs underlie dosage compensation mechanisms and influence male-female differences in mammals. Moreover, we will discuss how ncRNAs have been tinkered with during therian evolution to adapt XCI mechanistic to species-specific constraints.
KeywordsDosage compensation X-chromosome inactivation Xist Tsix Sex chromosomes
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