Journal article Open Access

Expression and epigenomic landscape of the sex chromosomes in mouse post-meiotic male germ cells

Moretti, Charlotte; Vaiman, Daniel; Tores, Frederic; Cocquet, Julie

Background: During meiosis, the X and Y chromosomes are transcriptionally silenced. The persistence of repressive chromatin marks on the sex chromatin after meiosis initially led to the assumption that XY gene silencing persists to some extent in spermatids. Considering the many reports of XY-linked genes expressed and needed in the post-meiotic phase of mouse spermatogenesis, it is still unclear whether or not the mouse sex chromatin is a repressive or permissive environment, after meiosis.

Results: To determine the transcriptional and chromatin state of the sex chromosomes after meiosis, we re-analyzed ten ChIP-Seq datasets performed on mouse round spermatids and four RNA-seq datasets from male germ cells purified at different stages of spermatogenesis. For this, we used the last version of the genome (mm10/GRCm38) and included reads that map to several genomic locations in order to properly interpret the high proportion of sex chromosome-encoded multicopy genes. Our study shows that coverage of active epigenetic marks H3K4me3 and Kcr is similar on the sex chromosomes and on autosomes. The post-meiotic sex chromatin nevertheless differs from autosomal chromatin in its enrichment in H3K9me3 and its depletion in H3K27me3 and H4 acetylation. We also identified a posttranslational modification, H3K27ac, which specifically accumulates on the Y chromosome. In parallel, we found that the X and Y chromosomes are enriched in genes expressed post-meiotically and display a higher proportion of spermatid-specific genes compared to autosomes. Finally, we observed that portions of chromosome 14 and of the sex chromosomes share specific features, such as enrichment in H3K9me3 and the presence of multicopy genes that are specifically expressed in round spermatids, suggesting that parts of chromosome 14 are under the same evolutionary constraints than the sex chromosomes.

Conclusions: Based on our expression and epigenomic studies, we conclude that, after meiosis, the mouse sex chromosomes are no longer silenced but are nevertheless regulated differently than autosomes and accumulate different chromatin marks. We propose that post-meiotic selective constraints are at the basis of the enrichment of spermatid-specific genes and of the peculiar chromatin composition of the sex chromosomes and of parts of chromosome 14.

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