The epigenome of evolving Drosophila neo-sex chromosomes: dosage compensation and heterochromatin formation

The epigenome of evolving Drosophila neo-sex chromosomes: dosage compensation and heterochromatin formation
Qi Zhou, Christopher E. Ellison, Vera B. Kaiser, Artyom A. Alekseyenko, Andrey A. Gorchakov, Doris Bachtrog
(Submitted on 26 Sep 2013)

Drosophila Y chromosomes are composed entirely of silent heterochromatin, while male X chromosomes have highly accessible chromatin and are hypertranscribed due to dosage compensation. Here, we dissect the molecular mechanisms and functional pressures driving heterochromatin formation and dosage compensation of the recently formed neo-sex chromosomes of Drosophila miranda. We show that the onset of heterochromatin formation on the neo-Y is triggered by an accumulation of repetitive DNA. The neo-X has evolved partial dosage compensation and we find that diverse mutational paths have been utilized to establish several dozen novel binding consensus motifs for the dosage compensation complex on the neo-X, including simple point mutations at pre-binding sites, insertion and deletion mutations, microsatellite expansions, or tandem amplification of weak binding sites. Spreading of these silencing or activating chromatin modifications to adjacent regions results in massive mis-expression of neo-sex linked genes, and little correspondence between functionality of genes and their silencing on the neo-Y or dosage compensation on the neo-X. Intriguingly, the genomic regions being targeted by the dosage compensation complex on the neo-X and those becoming heterochromatic on the neo-Y show little overlap, possibly reflecting different propensities along the ancestral chromosome to adopt active or repressive chromatin configurations. Our findings have broad implications for current models of sex chromosome evolution, and demonstrate how mechanistic constraints can limit evolutionary adaptations. Our study also highlights how evolution can follow predictable genetic trajectories, by repeatedly acquiring the same 21-bp consensus motif for recruitment of the dosage compensation complex, yet utilizing a diverse array of random mutational changes to attain the same phenotypic outcome.

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