Sex chromosome polymorphism in guppies

Chromosoma. 2014 Aug;123(4):373-83. doi: 10.1007/s00412-014-0455-z. Epub 2014 Mar 28.


Sex chromosomes differ from autosomes by dissimilar gene content and, at a more advanced stage of their evolution, also in structure and size. This is driven by the divergence of the Y or W from their counterparts, X and Z, due to reduced recombination and the resulting degeneration as well as the accumulation of sex-specific and sexually antagonistic genes. A paradigmatic example for Y-chromosome evolution is found in guppies. In these fishes, conflicting data exist for a morphological and molecular differentiation of sex chromosomes. Using molecular probes and the previously established linkage map, we performed a cytogenetic analysis of sex chromosomes. We show that the Y chromosome has a very large pseudoautosomal region, which is followed by a heterochromatin block (HCY) separating the subtelomeric male-specific region from the rest of the chromosome. Interestingly, the size of the HCY is highly variable between individuals from different population. The largest HCY was found in one population of Poecilia wingei, making the Y almost double the size of the X and the largest chromosome of the complement. Comparative analysis revealed that the Y chromosomes of different guppy species are homologous and share the same structure and organization. The observed size differences are explained by an expansion of the HCY, which is due to increased amounts of repetitive DNA. In one population, we observed also a polymorphism of the X chromosome. We suggest that sex chromosome-linked color patterns and other sexually selected genes are important for maintaining the observed structural polymorphism of sex chromosomes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chromosome Banding
  • DNA Fingerprinting
  • Female
  • Indoles / metabolism
  • Karyotyping
  • Male
  • Meiosis / genetics
  • Metaphase / genetics
  • Poecilia / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • X Chromosome / genetics*
  • Y Chromosome / genetics*


  • Indoles
  • DAPI