Untangling the contributions of sex-specific gene regulation and x-chromosome dosage to sex-biased gene expression in Caenorhabditis elegans

Maxwell Kramer, Prashant Rao, Sevinc Ercan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Dosage compensation mechanisms equalize the level of X chromosome expression between sexes. Yet the X chromosome is often enriched for genes exhibiting sex-biased, i.e., imbalanced expression. The relationship between X chromosome dosage compensation and sex-biased gene expression remains largely unexplored. Most studies determine sex-biased gene expression without distinguishing between contributions from X chromosome copy number (dose) and the animal’s sex. Here, we uncoupled X chromosome dose from sex-specific gene regulation in Caenorhabditis elegans to determine the effect of each on X expression. In early embryogenesis, when dosage compensation is not yet fully active, X chromosome dose drives the hermaphrodite-biased expression of many X-linked genes, including several genes that were shown to be responsible for hermaphrodite fate. A similar effect is seen in the C. elegans germline, where X chromosome dose contributes to higher hermaphrodite X expression, suggesting that lack of dosage compensation in the germline may have a role in supporting higher expression of X chromosomal genes with female-biased functions in the gonad. In the soma, dosage compensation effectively balances X expression between the sexes. As a result, somatic sex-biased expression is almost entirely due to sex-specific gene regulation. These results suggest that lack of dosage compensation in different tissues and developmental stages allow X chromosome copy number to contribute to sex-biased gene expression and function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)355-369
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Sarah Albritton for critical reading and suggestions on the manuscript and Anna-Lena Kranz for advice and contributions to data analysis. This work was supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, grant R01-GM107293. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Some strains were provided by the Caenorhabditis Genetics Center, which is funded by National Institutes of Health Office of Research Infrastructure Programs (P40-OD010440).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 by the Genetics Society of America.


  • C. elegans
  • Chromatin
  • Dosage compensation
  • Gene regulation
  • Genetics of sex
  • Germline
  • RNA-seq
  • Sex
  • Sex-biased gene expression
  • Transcription
  • X chromosome
  • XO


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