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Annu Rev Cell Dev Biol. 2014;30:561-80. doi: 10.1146/annurev-cellbio-101512-122415. Epub 2014 Jun 27.

Noncoding RNAs and epigenetic mechanisms during X-chromosome inactivation.

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Mammalian Developmental Epigenetics Group, Genetics and Developmental Biology Unit, Institut Curie, 75248 Paris, France; email:


In mammals, the process of X-chromosome inactivation ensures equivalent levels of X-linked gene expression between males and females through the silencing of one of the two X chromosomes in female cells. The process is established early in development and is initiated by a unique locus, which produces a long noncoding RNA, Xist. The Xist transcript triggers gene silencing in cis by coating the future inactive X chromosome. It also induces a cascade of chromatin changes, including posttranslational histone modifications and DNA methylation, and leads to the stable repression of all X-linked genes throughout development and adult life. We review here recent progress in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in the initiation of Xist expression, the propagation of the Xist RNA along the chromosome, and the cis-elements and trans-acting factors involved in the maintenance of the repressed state. We also describe the diverse strategies used by nonplacental mammals for X-chromosome dosage compensation and highlight the common features and differences between eutherians and metatherians, in particular regarding the involvement of long noncoding RNAs.


Xist; chromatin; dosage compensation; monoallelic expression

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