Pleiotropic constraint hampers the resolution of sexual antagonism in vertebrate gene expression

Am Nat. 2008 Jan;171(1):35-43. doi: 10.1086/523954.


The numerous physiological and phenotypic differences between the sexes, as well as the disparity between male and female reproductive interests, result in sexual conflicts, which are often manifested at the genomic level. Sexually antagonistic genes benefit one sex at the expense of the other and experience strong pressure to evolve male- and female-specific expression patterns to resolve sexual conflicts and maximize fitness for both sexes. Sex-biased gene expression has recently been demonstrated for much of the metazoan transcriptome, suggesting that many loci are sexually antagonistic. However, many coding regions function in multiple processes throughout the organism. This pleiotropy increases the complexity of selection for any given gene, which in turn may obscure sex-specific selective pressures and hamper the evolution of sex-biased gene expression. Here we use microarray gene expression data, in conjunction with data on transcript abundance from expressed sequence tag libraries, to demonstrate that loci with sex-biased gene expression are significantly less pleiotropic than unbiased genes. This relationship was independent of sex chromosome gene dosage effects, and the results were concordant across two study organisms, chicken and mouse. These results suggest that the resolution of sexually antagonistic gene expression is determined by the evolutionary constraints acting on any given antagonistic locus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chickens / genetics*
  • Expressed Sequence Tags
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Sex Characteristics*