, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 115-126,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 13 Feb 2009

Specific patterns of histone marks accompany X chromosome inactivation in a marsupial


The inactivation of one of the two X chromosomes in female placental mammals represents a remarkable example of epigenetic silencing. X inactivation occurs also in marsupial mammals, but is phenotypically different, being incomplete, tissue-specific and paternal. Paternal X inactivation occurs also in the extraembryonic cells of rodents, suggesting that imprinted X inactivation represents a simpler ancestral mechanism. This evolved into a complex and random process in placental mammals under the control of the XIST gene, involving notably variant and modified histones. Molecular mechanisms of X inactivation in marsupials are poorly known, but occur in the absence of an XIST homologue. We analysed the specific pattern of histone modifications using immunofluorescence on metaphasic chromosomes of a model kangaroo, the tammar wallaby. We found that all active marks are excluded from the inactive X in marsupials, as in placental mammals, so this represents a common feature of X inactivation throughout mammals. However, we were unable to demonstrate the accumulation of inactive histone marks, suggesting some fundamental differences in the molecular mechanism of X inactivation between marsupial and placental mammals. A better understanding of the epigenetic mechanisms underlying X inactivation in marsupials will provide important insights into the evolution of this complex process.

Responsible Editor: Herbert Macgregor.
Edda Koina and Julie Chaumeil contributed equally to this work.