Sex chromosome dosage compensation in Heliconius butterflies: global yet still incomplete?

Sex chromosome dosage compensation in Heliconius butterflies: global yet still incomplete?

James R Walters , Thomas J Hardcastle , Chris Jiggins

The evolution of heterogametic sex chromosome is often – but not always – accompanied by the evolution of dosage compensating mechanisms that mitigate the impact of sex-specific gene dosage on levels of gene expression. One emerging view of this process is that such mechanisms may only evolve in male-heterogametic (XY) species but not in female-heterogametic (ZW) species, which will consequently exhibit “incomplete” sex chromosome dosage compensation. However, some recent results from moths suggest that Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) may prove to be an exception to this prediction. Here we report an analysis of sex chromosome dosage compensation in Heliconius butterflies, sampling multiple individuals for several different adult tissues (head, abdomen, leg, mouth, and antennae). Methodologically, we introduce a novel application of linear mixed-effects models to assess dosage compensation, offering a unified statistical framework that can estimate effects specific to chromosome, to sex, and their interactions (i.e., a dosage effect). Our results show substantially reduced Z-linked expression relative to autosomes in both sexes, as previously observed in bombycoid moths. This observation is consistent with an increasing body of evidence that at least some species of moths and butterflies possess an epigenetic sex chromosome dosage compensating mechanism that operates by reducing Z chromosome expression in males. However, this mechanism appears to be imperfect in Heliconius, resulting in a modest dosage effect that produces an average 5-20% male-bias on the Z chromosome, depending on the tissue. Strong sex chromosome dosage effects have been previously in a pyralid moth. Thus our results reflect a mixture of previous patterns reported for Lepidoptera and bisect the emerging view that female-heterogametic ZW taxa have incomplete dosage compensation because they lack a chromosome-wide epigenetic mechanism mediating sex chromosome dosage compensation. In the case of Heliconius, sex chromosome dosage effects persist apparently despite such a mechanism. We also analyze chromosomal distributions of sex-biased genes and show an excess of male-biased and a dearth of female-biased genes on the Z chromosome relative to autosomes, consistent with predictions of sexually antagonistic evolution.


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