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Bioessays. 2004 Aug;26(8):821-4.

Silence of the fathers: early X inactivation.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


X chromosome inactivation is the mammalian answer to the dilemma of dosage compensation between males and females. The study of this fascinating form of chromosome-wide gene regulation has yielded surprising insights into early development and cellular memory. In the past few months, three papers reported unexpected findings about the paternal X chromosome (X(p)). All three studies agree that the X(p) is imprinted to become inactive earlier than ever suspected during embryonic development. Although apparently incomplete, this early form of inactivation insures dosage compensation throughout development. Silencing of the X(p) persists in cells of extraembryonic tissues, but it is erased and followed by random X inactivation in cells of the embryo proper. These findings challenge several aspects of the current view of X inactivation during early development and may have profound impact on studies of pluripotency and epigenetics.

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