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Curr Opin Genet Dev. 2002 Apr;12(2):219-24.

X-chromosome inactivation and the search for chromosome-wide silencers.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA.


X-chromosome inactivation leads to divergent fates for two homologous chromosomes. Whether one X remains active or becomes silenced depends on the activity of Xist, a gene expressed only from the inactive X and whose RNA product 'paints' the X in cis. Recent work argues that Xist RNA itself is the acting agent for initiating the silencing step. Xist RNA contains separable domains for RNA localization and chromosome silencing. While no Xist RNA-interacting factors have been identified, a growing collection of chromatin alterations have been identified on the inactive X, including variant histone H2A composition and histone H3 methylation. Some or all of these changes may be critical for chromosome-wide silencing. As none of the silencing proteins identified so far is unique to X chromosome inactivation, the specificity must partly reside in Xist RNA whose spread along the X orchestrates general silencing factors for this specific task.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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