Integrated analysis of Xist upregulation and X-chromosome inactivation with single-cell and single-allele resolution

Nat Commun. 2021 Jun 15;12(1):3638. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-23643-6.


To ensure dosage compensation between the sexes, one randomly chosen X chromosome is silenced in each female cell in the process of X-chromosome inactivation (XCI). XCI is initiated during early development through upregulation of the long non-coding RNA Xist, which mediates chromosome-wide gene silencing. Cell differentiation, Xist upregulation and gene silencing are thought to be coupled at multiple levels to ensure inactivation of exactly one out of two X chromosomes. Here we perform an integrated analysis of all three processes through allele-specific single-cell RNA-sequencing. Specifically, we assess the onset of random XCI in differentiating mouse embryonic stem cells, and develop dedicated analysis approaches. By exploiting the inter-cellular heterogeneity of XCI onset, we identify putative Xist regulators. Moreover, we show that transient Xist upregulation from both X chromosomes results in biallelic gene silencing right before transitioning to the monoallelic state, confirming a prediction of the stochastic model of XCI. Finally, we show that genetic variation modulates the XCI process at multiple levels, providing a potential explanation for the long-known X-controlling element (Xce) effect, which leads to preferential inactivation of a specific X chromosome in inter-strain crosses. We thus draw a detailed picture of the different levels of regulation that govern the initiation of XCI. The experimental and computational strategies we have developed here will allow us to profile random XCI in more physiological contexts, including primary human cells in vivo.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alleles
  • Animals
  • Dosage Compensation, Genetic
  • Female
  • Gene Silencing
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells
  • RNA, Long Noncoding / genetics*
  • RNA, Long Noncoding / metabolism*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Up-Regulation*
  • X Chromosome
  • X Chromosome Inactivation* / genetics
  • X Chromosome Inactivation* / physiology


  • RNA, Long Noncoding
  • XIST non-coding RNA