Human Genetics

, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp 105–116

The etiology of maleness in XX men

  • Albert de la Chapelle

DOI: 10.1007/BF00284157

Cite this article as:
de la Chapelle, A. Hum Genet (1981) 58: 105. doi:10.1007/BF00284157


Information relating to the etiology of human XX males is reviewed. The lesser body height and smaller tooth size in comparison with control males and first-degree male relatives could imply that the patients never had any Y chromosome. Neither reports of occasional mitoses with a Y chromosome, nor of the occurrence of Y chromatin in Sertoli cells are convincing enough to support the idea that low-grade or circumscribed mosaicism is a common etiologic factor. Reports of an increase in length of one of the X chromosomes in XX males are few and some are conflicting. Nor is there any evidence to support the idea of loss of material. However, absence of visible cytogenetic alteration does not rule out the possibility of translocations, exchanges or deletions.

A few familial cases are known. Mendelian gene mutations may account for a number of instances of XX males, similar genes being well known in several animal species. The existing geographical differences in the prevalence of human XX males could be explained by differences in gene frequency. But if gene mutation were a common cause of XX maleness there would be more familial cases.

Any hypothesis explaining the etiology of XX males should take into account the following facts. There are at least 4 examples of XX males who have inherited the Xg allele carried by their fathers, and at least 9 of such males who have not. The frequency of the Xg phenotype among XX males is far closer to that of males than to that of females, while the absence of any color-blind XX males (among 40 tested) resembles the distribution in females. Furthermore, H-Y antigen is present in XX males, often at a strength intermediate between that in normal males and females. Finally, in a pedigree comprising three independently ascertained XX males, the mothers of all three are H-Y antigen-positive, and the pattern of inheritance of the antigen in two of them precludes X-chromosomal transmission.

Many of the data are consistent with the hypothesis that XX males arise through interchange of the testic-determining gene on the Y chromosome and a portion of the X chromosome containing the Xg gene. However, actual evidence in favor of this hypothesis is still lacking, and the H-Y antigen data are not easy to explain. In contrast, if recent hypotheses on the mechanisms controlling the expression of H-Y antigen are confirmed, a gene exerting negative control on testis determination would be located near the end of of the short arm of the X chromosome. This putative gene is believed not to be inactivated in normal females, for at least two other genes located in the same region, i.e. Xg and steroid sulfatase, are not. Deletion or inactivation of these loci would explain how XX males arise and would be consistent with most, but not all, the facts.

There is yet no single hypothesis that by itself can explain all the facts accumulated about XX males. While mosaicism appears very unlikely in most cases, Mendelian gene mutation, translocation, X-Y interchange, a minute deletion or preferential inactivation of an X chromosome, or part thereof, remain possible. The etiology of XX maleness may well be heterogeneous.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH & Co. KG 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Albert de la Chapelle
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Medical GeneticsUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinki 29Finland

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