PhD thesis: a PhD thesis.
Evolution of mRNA expression levels of autosomal and sex-linked genes in amniotes
Université de Lausanne, Faculté de biologie et médecine
Faculté de biologie et de médecineUniversité de LausanneUNIL - BugnonRue du Bugnon 21 - bureau 4111CH-1015 LausanneSUISSE
Number of pages
In addition to differences in protein-coding gene sequences, changes in expression resulting from mutations in regulatory sequences have long been hypothesized to be responsible for phenotypic differences between species. However, unlike comparison of genome sequences, few studies, generally restricted to pairwise comparisons of closely related mammalian species, have assessed between-species differences at the transcriptome level. They reported that gene expression evolves at different rates in various organs and in a pattern that is overall consistent with neutral models of evolution. In the first part of my thesis, I investigated the evolution of gene expression in therian mammals (i.e.7 placental and marsupials), based on microarray data from human, mouse and the gray short-tailed opossum (Monodelphis domestica). In addition to autosomal genes, a special focus was given to the evolution of X-linked genes. The therian X chromosome was recently shown to be younger than previously thought and to harbor a specific gene content (e.g., genes involved in brain or reproductive functions) that is thought to have been shaped by specific sex-related evolutionary forces. Sex chromosomes derive from ordinary autosomes and their differentiation led to the degeneration of the Y chromosome (in mammals) or W chromosome (in birds). Consequently, X- or Z-linked genes differ in gene dose between males and females such that the heterogametic sex has half the X/Z gene dose compared to the ancestral state. To cope with this dosage imbalance, mammals have been reported to have evolved mechanisms of dosage compensation.¦In the first project, I could first show that transcriptomes evolve at different rates in different organs. Out of the five tissues I investigated, the testis is the most rapidly evolving organ at the gene expression level while the brain has the most conserved transcriptome. Second, my analyses revealed that mammalian gene expression evolution is compatible with a neutral model, where the rates of change in gene expression levels is linked to the efficiency of purifying selection in a given lineage, which, in turn, is determined by the long-term effective population size in that lineage. Thus, the rate of DNA sequence evolution, which could be expected to determine the rate of regulatory sequence change, does not seem to be a major determinant of the rate of gene expression evolution. Thus, most gene expression changes seem to be (slightly) deleterious. Finally, X-linked genes seem to have experienced elevated rates of gene expression change during the early stage of X evolution. To further investigate the evolution of mammalian gene expression, we generated an extensive RNA-Seq gene expression dataset for nine mammalian species and a bird. The analyses of this dataset confirmed the patterns previously observed with microarrays and helped to significantly deepen our view on gene expression evolution.¦In a specific project based on these data, I sought to assess in detail patterns of evolution of dosage compensation in amniotes. My analyses revealed the absence of male to female dosage compensation in monotremes and its presence in marsupials and, in addition, confirmed patterns previously described for placental mammals and birds. I then assessed the global level of expression of X/Z chromosomes and contrasted this with its ancestral gene expression levels estimated from orthologous autosomal genes in species with non-homologous sex chromosomes. This analysis revealed a lack of up-regulation for placental mammals, the level of expression of X-linked genes being proportional to gene dose. Interestingly, the ancestral gene expression level was at least partially restored in marsupials as well as in the heterogametic sex of monotremes and birds. Finally, I investigated alternative mechanisms of dosage compensation and found that gene duplication did not seem to be a widespread mechanism to restore the ancestral gene dose. However, I could show that placental mammals have preferentially down-regulated autosomal genes interacting with X-linked genes which underwent gene expression decrease, and thus identified a novel alternative mechanism of dosage compensation.
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