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Bioessays. 2004 Feb;26(2):159-69.

How mammalian sex chromosomes acquired their peculiar gene content.

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  • 1Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Department of Human Genetics, University of Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


It has become increasingly evident that gene content of the sex chromosomes is markedly different from that of the autosomes. Both sex chromosomes appear enriched for genes related to sexual differentiation and reproduction; but curiously, the human X chromosome also seems to bear a preponderance of genes linked to brain and muscle functions. In this review, we will synthesize several evolutionary theories that may account for this nonrandom assortment of genes on the sex chromosomes, including 1) asexual degeneration, 2) sexual antagonism, 3) constant selection, and 4) hemizygous exposure. Additionally, we will speculate on how the evolution of sex-chromosome gene content might have impacted on the phenotypic evolution of mammals and particularly humans. Our discussion will focus on the mammalian sex chromosomes, but will cross reference other species where appropriate.

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