Spread of X-chromosome inactivation into autosomal sequences: role for DNA elements, chromatin features and chromosomal domains

Hum Mol Genet. 2014 Mar 1;23(5):1211-23. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddt513. Epub 2013 Oct 24.


X-chromosome inactivation results in dosage equivalence between the X chromosome in males and females; however, over 15% of human X-linked genes escape silencing and these genes are enriched on the evolutionarily younger short arm of the X chromosome. The spread of inactivation onto translocated autosomal material allows the study of inactivation without the confounding evolutionary history of the X chromosome. The heterogeneity and reduced extent of silencing on autosomes are evidence for the importance of DNA elements underlying the spread of silencing. We have assessed DNA methylation in six unbalanced X-autosome translocations using the Illumina Infinium HumanMethylation450 array. Two to 42% of translocated autosomal genes showed this mark of silencing, with the highest degree of inactivation observed for trisomic autosomal regions. Generally, the extent of silencing was greatest close to the translocation breakpoint; however, silencing was detected well over 100 kb into the autosomal DNA. Alu elements were found to be enriched at autosomal genes that escaped from inactivation while L1s were enriched at subject genes. In cells without the translocation, there was enrichment of heterochromatic features such as EZH2 and H3K27me3 for those genes that become silenced when translocated, suggesting that underlying chromatin structure predisposes genes towards silencing. Additionally, the analysis of topological domains indicated physical clustering of autosomal genes of common inactivation status. Overall, our analysis indicated a complex interaction between DNA sequence, chromatin features and the three-dimensional structure of the chromosome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Chromatin
  • Chromosomes, Human
  • Chromosomes, Human, X*
  • CpG Islands
  • DNA Methylation
  • Female
  • Gene Silencing
  • Genetic Markers
  • Heterochromatin / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • Transcription Initiation Site
  • Translocation, Genetic
  • X Chromosome Inactivation*


  • Chromatin
  • Genetic Markers
  • Heterochromatin