Transcriptome sequencing reveals the character of incomplete dosage compensation across multiple tissues in flycatchers

Severin Uebbing, Axel Künstner, Hannu Mäkinen, Hans Ellegren*

*Corresponding author for this work
38 Citations (Scopus)


Sex chromosome divergence, which follows the cessation of recombination and degeneration of the sex-limited chromosome, can cause a reduction in expression level for sex-linked genes in the heterozygous sex, unless some mechanisms of dosage compensation develops to counter the reduction in gene dose. Because large-scale perturbations in expression levels arising from changes in gene dose might have strong deleterious effects, the evolutionary response should be strong. However, in birds and in at least some other female heterogametic organisms, wholesale sex chromosome dosage compensation does not seem to occur. Using RNA-seq of multiple tissues and individuals, we investigated male and female expression levels of Z-linked and autosomal genes in the collared flycatcher, a bird for which a draft genome sequence recently has been reported. We found that male expression of Z-linked genes was on average 50% higher than female expression, although the re was considerable variation in the male-to-female ratio among genes. The ratio for individual genes was well correlated among tissues and the re was also a correlation in the extent of compensation between flycatcher and chicken orthologs. The relative excess of male expression was positively correlated with expression breadth, expression level, and number of interacting proteins (protein connectivity), and negatively correlated with variance in expression. These observations lead to a model of compensation occurring on a gene-by-gene basis, supported by an absence of clustering of genes on the Z chromosome with respect to the extent of compensation. Equal mean expression level of autosomal and Z-linked genes in males, and 50% higher expression of autosomal than Z-linked genes in females, is compatible with that partial compensation is achieved by hyper transcription from females' single Z chromosome. A comparison with male-to-female expression ratios in orthologous Z-linked genes of ostriches, where Z-W recombination still occurs, suggests that male-biased expression of Z-linked genes is a derived trait after avian sex chromosome divergence.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)1555-1566
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 08.2013

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)


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