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Gend Med. 2007 Jun;4(2):97-105.

Why females are mosaics, X-chromosome inactivation, and sex differences in disease.

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  • 1McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, 459 Broadway research Building, 773 N Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.


At every age, males have a higher risk of mortality than do females. This sex difference is most often attributed to the usual suspects: differences in hormones and life experiences. However, the fact that XY males have only one X chromosome undoubtedly contributes to this vulnerability, as any mutation that affects a gene on their X chromosome will affect their only copy of that gene. On the other hand, cellular mosaicism created by X inactivation provides a biologic advantage to females. There are 1100 genes on the X chromosome, and most of them are not expressed from the Y chromosome. Therefore, sex differences in the expression of these genes are likely to underlie many sex differences in the expression of diseases affected by these genes. In fact, this genetic biology should be considered for any disease or phenotype that occurs in one sex more than the other, because the disease mechanism may be influenced directly by an X-linked gene or indirectly through the consequences of X inactivation.

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