In C. elegans dosage compensation is required to balance X-linked gene expression to autosomes. It is hypothesized that an unknown mechanism causes X upregulation in both sexes. This mechanism balances the X to autosomal expression in males, but creates X overexpression in hermaphrodites. Therefore, to restore the balance, hermaphrodites downregulate gene expression two-fold on both X chromosomes. While many studies have focused on X chromosome downregulation, the mechanism of X upregulation is not known.
Using 3D FISH microscopy to measure the volume of chromosome territories we found that the X chromosome, but not chromosome 1, territories in males are unexpectedly decondensed. We found that this X chromosome decondensation requires the activity of the histone acetyltransferase, MYS-1 (homologous to human TIP60). Interestingly, MYS-1 acetylates H4K16, the key factor responsible for male-specific X-upregulation in Drosophila melanogaster dosage compensation. This suggests that H4K16ac may be responsible for higher gene expression levels on the male X in both species. Depleting other members of a putative C. elegans TIP60-like complex led to similar X phenotypes as MYS-1 depletion. We hypothesize that a TIP60-like complex decondenses the X chromosome in C. elegans males, and this decondensation contributes to upregulation of gene expression on the chromosome. By analyzing X chromosome volumes in young male embryos we determined that the developmental time window for this male X chromosome decondensation occurs around the 30-to-50-cell stage, surprisingly the same stage as the downregulation process in hermaphrodites. Overall, our data indicates that histone acetylation by the MYST family HAT MYS-1 may play an important role in the highly debated X upregulation mechanism in C. elegans. .
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