Silencing of X-linked microRNAs by meiotic sex chromosome inactivation

More about Open Access at the Crick


During the pachytene stage of meiosis in male mammals, the X and Y chromosomes are transcriptionally silenced by Meiotic Sex Chromosome Inactivation (MSCI). MSCI is conserved in therian mammals and is essential for normal male fertility. Transcriptomics approaches have demonstrated that in mice, most or all protein-coding genes on the X chromosome are subject to MSCI. However, it is unclear whether X-linked non-coding RNAs behave in a similar manner. The X chromosome is enriched in microRNA (miRNA) genes, with many exhibiting testis-biased expression. Importantly, high expression levels of X-linked miRNAs (X-miRNAs) have been reported in pachytene spermatocytes, indicating that these genes may escape MSCI, and perhaps play a role in the XY-silencing process. Here we use RNA FISH to examine X-miRNA expression in the male germ line. We find that, like protein-coding X-genes, X-miRNAs are expressed prior to prophase I and are thereafter silenced during pachynema. X-miRNA silencing does not occur in mouse models with defective MSCI. Furthermore, X-miRNAs are expressed at pachynema when present as autosomally integrated transgenes. Thus, we conclude that silencing of X-miRNAs during pachynema in wild type males is MSCI-dependent. Importantly, misexpression of X-miRNAs during pachynema causes spermatogenic defects. We propose that MSCI represents a chromosomal mechanism by which X-miRNAs, and other potential X-encoded repressors, can be silenced, thereby regulating genes with critical late spermatogenic functions.

Journal details

Journal PLOS Genetics
Volume 11
Issue number 10
Pages e1005461
Available online
Publication date

Crick authors

Crick First author
Crick Corresponding author