Regulatory and evolutionary signatures of sex-biased genes on both the X chromosome and the autosomes

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Background: Sex is an important but understudied factor in the genetics of human diseases. Analyses using a combination of gene expression data, ENCODE data, and evolutionary data of sex-biased gene expression in human tissues can give insight into the regulatory and evolutionary forces acting on sex-biased genes. Methods: In this study, we analyzed the differentially expressed genes between males and females. On the X chromosome, we used a novel method and investigated the status of genes that escape X-chromosome inactivation (escape genes), taking into account the clonality of lymphoblastoid cell lines (LCLs). To investigate the regulation of sex-biased differentially expressed genes (sDEG), we conducted pathway and transcription factor enrichment analyses on the sDEGs, as well as analyses on the genomic distribution of sDEGs. Evolutionary analyses were also conducted on both sDEGs and escape genes. Results: Genome-wide, we characterized differential gene expression between sexes in 462 RNA-seq samples and identified 587 sex-biased genes, or 3.2% of the genes surveyed. On the X chromosome, sDEGs were distributed in evolutionary strata in a similar pattern as escape genes. We found a trend of negative correlation between the gene expression breadth and nonsynonymous over synonymous mutation (dN/dS) ratios, showing a possible pleiotropic constraint on evolution of genes. Genome-wide, nine transcription factors were found enriched in binding to the regions surrounding the transcription start sites of female-biased genes. Many pathways and protein domains were enriched in sex-biased genes, some of which hint at sex-biased physiological processes. Conclusions: These findings lend insight into the regulatory and evolutionary forces shaping sex-biased gene expression and their involvement in the physiological and pathological processes in human health and diseases.




Shen, J. J., Wang, T. Y., & Yang, W. (2017). Regulatory and evolutionary signatures of sex-biased genes on both the X chromosome and the autosomes. Biology of Sex Differences, 8(1).

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