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SeXY chromosomes and the immune system: reflections after a comparative study

  • Meester, Irene1
  • Manilla-Muñoz, Edgar1
  • León-Cachón, Rafael B. R.1
  • Paniagua-Frausto, Gustavo A.1
  • Carrión-Alvarez, Diego1
  • Ruiz-Rodríguez, C. Orelli1
  • Rodríguez-Rangel, Ximena1
  • García-Martínez, Joyce M.1
  • 1 Universidad de Monterrey, Av. Ignacio Morones Prieto 4500 Pte., San Pedro Garza García, Nuevo León, 66238, México , San Pedro Garza García (Mexico)
Published Article
Biology of Sex Differences
BioMed Central
Publication Date
Jan 14, 2020
DOI: 10.1186/s13293-019-0278-y
Springer Nature


BackgroundSex bias in immune function has been contributed in part to a preponderance of immune system-related genes (ISRG) on the X-chromosome. We verified whether ISRG are more abundant on the X chromosome as compared to autosomal chromosomes and reflected on the impact of our findings.MethodsConsulting freely accessible databases, we performed a comparative study consisting of three complementary strategies. First, among coding X/Y-linked genes, the abundance of ISRG was compared to the abundance of genes dedicated to other systems. Genes were assigned considering three criteria: disease, tissue expression, and function (DEF approach). In addition, we carried out two genome-wide approaches to compare the contribution of sex and autosomal chromosomes to immune genes defined by an elevated expression in lymphatic tissues (LTEEG approach) or annotation to an immune system process, GO:0002376 (GO approach).ResultsThe X chromosome had less immune genes than the median of the autosomal chromosomes. Among X-linked genes, ISRG ranked fourth after the reproductive and nervous systems and genes dedicated to development, proliferation and apoptosis. On the Y chromosome, ISRG ranked second, and at the pseudoautosomal region (PAR) first. According to studies on the expression of X-linked genes in a variety of (mostly non-lymphatic) tissues, almost two-thirds of ISRG are expressed without sex bias, and the remaining ISRG presented female and male bias with similar frequency. Various epigenetic controllers, X-linked MSL3 and Y-linked KDM5D and UTY, were preferentially expressed in leukocytes and deserve further attention for a possible role in sex biased expression or its neutralisation.ConclusionsThe X chromosome is not enriched for ISRG, though particular X-linked genes may be responsible for sex differences in certain immune responses. So far, there is insufficient information on sex-biased expression of X/Y-linked ISRG in leukocytes to draw general conclusions on the impact of X/Y-linked ISRG in immune function. More research on the regulation of the expression X-linked genes is required with attention to 1) female and male mechanisms that may either augment or diminish sex biased expression and 2) tissue-specific expression studies.

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