, Volume 243, Issue 5, pp 1083–1095 | Cite as

Repetitive sequences and epigenetic modification: inseparable partners play important roles in the evolution of plant sex chromosomes

  • Shu-Fen Li
  • Guo-Jun Zhang
  • Jin-Hong Yuan
  • Chuan-Liang Deng
  • Wu-Jun GaoEmail author


Main conclusion

The present review discusses the roles of repetitive sequences played in plant sex chromosome evolution, and highlights epigenetic modification as potential mechanism of repetitive sequences involved in sex chromosome evolution.

Sex determination in plants is mostly based on sex chromosomes. Classic theory proposes that sex chromosomes evolve from a specific pair of autosomes with emergence of a sex-determining gene(s). Subsequently, the newly formed sex chromosomes stop recombination in a small region around the sex-determining locus, and over time, the non-recombining region expands to almost all parts of the sex chromosomes. Accumulation of repetitive sequences, mostly transposable elements and tandem repeats, is a conspicuous feature of the non-recombining region of the Y chromosome, even in primitive one. Repetitive sequences may play multiple roles in sex chromosome evolution, such as triggering heterochromatization and causing recombination suppression, leading to structural and morphological differentiation of sex chromosomes, and promoting Y chromosome degeneration and X chromosome dosage compensation. In this article, we review the current status of this field, and based on preliminary evidence, we posit that repetitive sequences are involved in sex chromosome evolution probably via epigenetic modification, such as DNA and histone methylation, with small interfering RNAs as the mediator.


Dioecious plant Heterochromatization Recombination suppression Repetitive elements Sex chromosome evolution Transposable elements 



This work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science foundation of China (31300202, 30970211 and 31470334). We are grateful to Dr. Yongfang Li (Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Oklahoma State University) for her reviewing of this manuscript and constructive comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shu-Fen Li
    • 1
  • Guo-Jun Zhang
    • 2
  • Jin-Hong Yuan
    • 1
  • Chuan-Liang Deng
    • 1
  • Wu-Jun Gao
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.College of Life SciencesHenan Normal UniversityXinxiangChina
  2. 2.School of Basic Medical SciencesXinxiang Medical UniversityXinxiangChina

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