Sex differences in DNA methylation and expression in zebrafish brain: a test of an extended 'male sex drive' hypothesis

Gene. 2016 Sep 30;590(2):307-16. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2016.05.042. Epub 2016 May 31.


The sex drive hypothesis predicts that stronger selection on male traits has resulted in masculinization of the genome. Here we test whether such masculinizing effects can be detected at the level of the transcriptome and methylome in the adult zebrafish brain. Although methylation is globally similar, we identified 914 specific differentially methylated CpGs (DMCs) between males and females (435 were hypermethylated and 479 were hypomethylated in males compared to females). These DMCs were prevalent in gene body, intergenic regions and CpG island shores. We also discovered 15 distinct CpG clusters with striking sex-specific DNA methylation differences. In contrast, at transcriptome level, more female-biased genes than male-biased genes were expressed, giving little support for the male sex drive hypothesis. Our study provides genome-wide methylome and transcriptome assessment and sheds light on sex-specific epigenetic patterns and in zebrafish for the first time.

Keywords: Brain; CpG island; CpG site; DNA methylation; Male sex drive; Masculinization; RNA-Seq; RRBS; Sexual dimorphism; Zebrafish.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Chromosomes / genetics
  • Cluster Analysis
  • CpG Islands / genetics
  • DNA Methylation / genetics*
  • DNA, Intergenic / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Genome / genetics
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Zebrafish / genetics*


  • DNA, Intergenic