X chromosome dosage compensation: how mammals keep the balance

Annu Rev Genet. 2008;42:733-72. doi: 10.1146/annurev.genet.42.110807.091711.


The development of genetic sex determination and cytologically distinct sex chromosomes leads to the potential problem of gene dosage imbalances between autosomes and sex chromosomes and also between males and females. To circumvent these imbalances, mammals have developed an elaborate system of dosage compensation that includes both upregulation and repression of the X chromosome. Recent advances have provided insights into the evolutionary history of how both the imprinted and random forms of X chromosome inactivation have come about. Furthermore, our understanding of the epigenetic switch at the X-inactivation center and the molecular aspects of chromosome-wide silencing has greatly improved recently. Here, we review various facets of the ever-expanding field of mammalian dosage compensation and discuss its evolutionary, developmental, and mechanistic components.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Birds / genetics
  • Chromosomes, Human, X / genetics
  • Chromosomes, Human, Y / genetics
  • Dosage Compensation, Genetic*
  • Epigenesis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Genomic Imprinting
  • Humans
  • Invertebrates / genetics
  • Male
  • Mammals / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic
  • RNA, Long Noncoding
  • RNA, Untranslated / genetics
  • Sex Determination Processes
  • X Chromosome / genetics
  • Y Chromosome / genetics


  • RNA, Long Noncoding
  • RNA, Untranslated
  • XIST non-coding RNA