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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Nov 28;103(48):18190-5. Epub 2006 Nov 16.

Evidence for different origin of sex chromosomes in snakes, birds, and mammals and step-wise differentiation of snake sex chromosomes.

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  • 1Laboratory of Animal Cytogenetics, Department of Genome Dynamics, Hokkaido University, Kita-ku, Sapporo 060-0810, Japan.


All snake species exhibit genetic sex determination with the ZZ/ZW type of sex chromosomes. To investigate the origin and evolution of snake sex chromosomes, we constructed, by FISH, a cytogenetic map of the Japanese four-striped rat snake (Elaphe quadrivirgata) with 109 cDNA clones. Eleven of the 109 clones were localized to the Z chromosome. All human and chicken homologues of the snake Z-linked genes were located on autosomes, suggesting that the sex chromosomes of snakes, mammals, and birds were all derived from different autosomal pairs of the common ancestor. We mapped the 11 Z-linked genes of E. quadrivirgata to chromosomes of two other species, the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus) and the habu (Trimeresurus flavoviridis), to investigate the process of W chromosome differentiation. All and 3 of the 11 clones were localized to both the Z and W chromosomes in P. molurus and E. quadrivirgata, respectively, whereas no cDNA clones were mapped to the W chromosome in T. flavoviridis. Comparative mapping revealed that the sex chromosomes are only slightly differentiated in P. molurus, whereas they are fully differentiated in T. flavoviridis, and E. quadrivirgata is at a transitional stage of sex-chromosome differentiation. The differentiation of sex chromosomes was probably initiated from the distal region on the short arm of the protosex chromosome of the common ancestor, and then deletion and heterochromatization progressed on the sex-specific chromosome from the phylogenetically primitive boids to the more advanced viperids.

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