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Biochimie. 2011 Nov;93(11):1935-42. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2011.07.009. Epub 2011 Jul 27.

Origin and evolution of the long non-coding genes in the X-inactivation center.

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UMR 7216 Epigénétique et Destin Cellulaire, CNRS/Université Paris-Diderot Paris 7, 35 rue Hélène Brion, 75205 Paris, France.


Random X chromosome inactivation (XCI), the eutherian mechanism of X-linked gene dosage compensation, is controlled by a cis-acting locus termed the X-inactivation center (Xic). One of the striking features that characterize the Xic landscape is the abundance of loci transcribing non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs), including Xist, the master regulator of the inactivation process. Recent comparative genomic analyses have depicted the evolutionary scenario behind the origin of the X-inactivation center, revealing that this locus evolved from a region harboring protein-coding genes. During mammalian radiation, this ancestral protein-coding region was disrupted in the marsupial group, whilst it provided in eutherian lineage the starting material for the non-translated RNAs of the X-inactivation center. The emergence of non-coding genes occurred by a dual mechanism involving loss of protein-coding function of the pre-existing genes and integration of different classes of mobile elements, some of which modeled the structure and sequence of the non-coding genes in a species-specific manner. The rising genes started to produce transcripts that acquired function in regulating the epigenetic status of the X chromosome, as shown for Xist, its antisense Tsix, Jpx, and recently suggested for Ftx. Thus, the appearance of the Xic, which occurred after the divergence between eutherians and marsupials, was the basis for the evolution of random X inactivation as a strategy to achieve dosage compensation.

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