Not Just Sex

 14 September 2010   Research News

Not Just SexSex chromosome complement affects gender bias

By analysing ‘sex-reversed’ mice, researchers in the CSC Gene Control Mechanisms and Disease group have uncovered an inherent difference in the way the genes of males or females can be ‘switched off’ or silenced in the developing immune system. This finding will have a significant impact in the way researchers approach diseases that have a disproportionate effect on one sex over the other such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis.

Distinguishing characteristics between males and females, such as face shape or body outline, can normally be put down to either differences in development or hormones. What the results of this study show is that the sex chromosome complement (XY in males and XX in females) rather than the actual sex has a highly significant influence on how hundreds of genes are used differentially in males and females. Moreover, the gene responsible for male development, Sry, appears to compensate for this effect.

Professor Richard Festenstein, who heads the Gene Control Mechanisms and Disease group, said:

“Many diseases affect more men than women and vice versa and we don’t really know why. Finding out that the gene Sry plays an important role could help researchers find explanations for the subtle differences in the way males and females physically respond when the body is under attack from disease. It will also help us identify if disease-causing genes are dependent on female (XX) or male (XY) chromosomes in order to work, allowing us to move towards developing drugs that will stop them in their tracks.”

The study is published online today in Developmental Cell. On the article page, Richard Festenstein has recorded a short audio clip describing the work.

The paper is also available to download from here.

Wijchers, P. J., Yandim, C., Panousopoulou, E., Ahmad, M., Harker, N., Saveliev, A., Burgoyne, P. S., Festenstein, R. (2010). Sexual dimorphism in mammalian autosomal gene regulation is determined not only by sry but by sex chromosome complement as well. Developmental Cell 19, 477–484.