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PLoS One. 2014 Apr 29;9(4):e96376. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096376. eCollection 2014.

Large sex differences in chicken behavior and brain gene expression coincide with few differences in promoter DNA-methylation.

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IFM Biology, AVIAN Behaviour and Genomics group, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden; Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Laboratory of Integrative and Behavioral Neuroscience, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden.
IFM Biology, AVIAN Behaviour and Genomics group, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden.


While behavioral sex differences have repeatedly been reported across taxa, the underlying epigenetic mechanisms in the brain are mostly lacking. Birds have previously shown to have only limited dosage compensation, leading to high sex bias of Z-chromosome gene expression. In chickens, a male hyper-methylated region (MHM) on the Z-chromosome has been associated with a local type of dosage compensation, but a more detailed characterization of the avian methylome is limiting our interpretations. Here we report an analysis of genome wide sex differences in promoter DNA-methylation and gene expression in the brain of three weeks old chickens, and associated sex differences in behavior of Red Junglefowl (ancestor of domestic chickens). Combining DNA-methylation tiling arrays with gene expression microarrays we show that a specific locus of the MHM region, together with the promoter for the zinc finger RNA binding protein (ZFR) gene on chromosome 1, is strongly associated with sex dimorphism in gene expression. Except for this, we found few differences in promoter DNA-methylation, even though hundreds of genes were robustly differentially expressed across distantly related breeds. Several of the differentially expressed genes are known to affect behavior, and as suggested from their functional annotation, we found that female Red Junglefowl are more explorative and fearful in a range of tests performed throughout their lives. This paper identifies new sites and, with increased resolution, confirms known sites where DNA-methylation seems to affect sexually dimorphic gene expression, but the general lack of this association is noticeable and strengthens the view that birds do not have dosage compensation.

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