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PLoS Biol. 2007 Dec;5(12):e326.

Dosage compensation in the mouse balances up-regulation and silencing of X-linked genes.

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Chromatin and Gene Expression Group, Institute of Biomedical Research, University of Birmingham Medical School, Birmingham, United Kingdom.


Dosage compensation in mammals involves silencing of one X chromosome in XX females and requires expression, in cis, of Xist RNA. The X to be inactivated is randomly chosen in cells of the inner cell mass (ICM) at the blastocyst stage of development. Embryonic stem (ES) cells derived from the ICM of female mice have two active X chromosomes, one of which is inactivated as the cells differentiate in culture, providing a powerful model system to study the dynamics of X inactivation. Using microarrays to assay expression of X-linked genes in undifferentiated female and male mouse ES cells, we detect global up-regulation of expression (1.4- to 1.6-fold) from the active X chromosomes, relative to autosomes. We show a similar up-regulation in ICM from male blastocysts grown in culture. In male ES cells, up-regulation reaches 2-fold after 2-3 weeks of differentiation, thereby balancing expression between the single X and the diploid autosomes. We show that silencing of X-linked genes in female ES cells occurs on a gene-by-gene basis throughout differentiation, with some genes inactivating early, others late, and some escaping altogether. Surprisingly, by allele-specific analysis in hybrid ES cells, we also identified a subgroup of genes that are silenced in undifferentiated cells. We propose that X-linked genes are silenced in female ES cells by spreading of Xist RNA through the X chromosome territory as the cells differentiate, with silencing times for individual genes dependent on their proximity to the Xist locus.

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