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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Oct 12;107(41):17657-62. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0910322107. Epub 2010 Sep 22.

Epigenetic modifications on X chromosomes in marsupial and monotreme mammals and implications for evolution of dosage compensation.

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Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB3 OES, United Kingdom.


X chromosome dosage compensation in female eutherian mammals is regulated by the noncoding Xist RNA and is associated with the differential acquisition of active and repressive histone modifications, resulting in repression of most genes on one of the two X chromosome homologs. Marsupial mammals exhibit dosage compensation; however, they lack Xist, and the mechanisms conferring epigenetic control of X chromosome dosage compensation remain elusive. Oviparous mammals, the monotremes, have multiple X chromosomes, and it is not clear whether they undergo dosage compensation and whether there is epigenetic dimorphism between homologous pairs in female monotremes. Here, using antibodies against DNA methylation, eight different histone modifications, and HP1, we conduct immunofluorescence on somatic cells of the female Australian marsupial possum Trichosurus vulpecula, the female platypus Ornithorhynchus anatinus, and control mouse cells. The two marsupial X's were different for all epigenetic features tested. In particular, unlike in the mouse, both repressive modifications, H3K9me3 and H4K20Me3, are enriched on one of the X chromosomes, and this is associated with the presence of HP1 and hypomethylation of DNA. Using sequential labeling, we determine that this DNA hypomethylated X correlates with histone marks of inactivity. These results suggest that female marsupials use a repressive histone-mediated inactivation mechanism and that this may represent an ancestral dosage compensation process that differs from eutherians that require Xist transcription and DNA methylation. In comparison to the marsupial, the monotreme exhibited no epigenetic differences between homologous X chromosomes, suggesting the absence of a dosage compensation process comparable to that in therians.

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