X-chromosome inactivation: role in skin disease expression

Acta Paediatr Suppl. 2006 Apr;95(451):16-23. doi: 10.1080/08035320600618775.


The occurrence of X inactivation in mammals has the consequence that all women are functional mosaics. In X-linked skin disorders, Lyonization usually gives rise to a mosaic pattern, as manifest by the appearance of the lines of Blaschko. This arrangement of lesions is observed in male-lethal X-linked traits, such as incontinentia pigmenti, focal dermal hypoplasia, Conradi-Hünermann-Happle syndrome, oral-facial-digital syndrome type 1 and MIDAS (microphthalmia, dermal aplasia and sclerocornea) syndrome, as well as in various X-linked non-lethal phenotypes, such as hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia of Christ-Siemens-Touraine, IFAP (ichthyosis follicularis-alopecia-photophobia) syndrome and X-linked dyskeratosis congenita. Analogous X-inactivation patterns have been documented in human bones, teeth, eyes and, possibly, the brain. Patterns that are distinct from the lines of Blaschko are also seen, such as the lateralization observed in CHILD (congenital hemidysplasia with ichthyosiform nevus and limb defects) syndrome, and the chequerboard pattern seen in women heterozygous for X-linked congenital hypertrichosis. Exceptional cases of either severe or absent involvement in a woman heterozygous for an X-linked trait can be explained by skewing of X inactivation. Some X-linked skin disorders are caused by genes that escape inactivation, which is why heterozygous female 'carriers' of these disorders do not show mosaicism. A well-known example is X-linked recessive ichthyosis due to steroid sulphatase deficiency, the locus for which is situated at the tip of the short arm of the X chromosome and does not undergo Lyonization. On the other hand, in the case of Fabry disease, the gene encoding alpha-galactosidase A is subject to inactivation. Remarkably, however, the skin lesions of women do not show a mosaic pattern.

Conclusion: In the various X-linked skin disorders, affected women show quite dissimilar degrees of involvement and forms of manifestation because X inactivation may give rise to different patterns of functional mosaicism. Paradoxically, no such pattern is observed in women with Fabry disease. Like many X-linked diseases, Fabry disease should neither be called recessive nor dominant, because these dichotomous terms are obscured by the mechanism of X inactivation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Fabry Disease / genetics
  • Humans
  • Incontinentia Pigmenti / genetics
  • Long Interspersed Nucleotide Elements / genetics
  • Retroelements / genetics
  • Skin Diseases / genetics*
  • Skin Diseases / physiopathology
  • X Chromosome Inactivation / physiology*


  • Retroelements