Regulatory RNAs and chromatin modification in dosage compensation: A continuous path from flies to humans?
Lavranos, Giagkos M.
MetadataShow full item record
Chromosomal sex determination is a widely distributed strategy in nature. In the most classic scenario, one sex is characterized by a homologue pair of sex chromosomes, while the other includes two morphologically and functionally distinct gonosomes. In mammalian diploid cells, the female is characterized by the presence of two identical X chromosomes, while the male features an XY pair, with the Y bearing the major genetic determinant of sex, i.e. the SRY gene. In other species, such as the fruitfly, sex is determined by the ratio of autosomes to X chromosomes. Regardless of the exact mechanism, however, all these animals would exhibit a sex-specific gene expression inequality, due to the different number of X chromosomes, a phenomenon inhibited by a series of genetic and epigenetic regulatory events described as "dosage compensation". Since adequate available data is currently restricted to worms, flies and mammals, while for other groups of animals, such as reptiles, fish and birds it is very limited, it is not yet clear whether this is an evolutionary conserved mechanism. However certain striking similarities have already been observed among evolutionary distant species, such as Drosophila melanogaster and Mus musculus. These mainly refer to a) the need for a counting mechanism, to determine the chromosomal content of the cell, i.e. the ratio of autosomes to gonosomes (a process well understood in flies, but still hypothesized in mammals), b) the implication of non-translated, sex-specific, regulatory RNAs (roX and Xist, respectively) as key elements in this process and the location of similar mediators in the Z chromosome of chicken c) the inclusion of a chromatin modification epigenetic final step, which ensures that gene expression remains stably regulated throughout the affected area of the gonosome. This review summarizes these points and proposes a possible role for comparative genetics, as they seem to constitute proof of maintained cell economy (by using the same basic regulatory elements in various different scenarios) throughout numerous centuries of evolutionary history.