In most female mammals, one of the two X chromosomes is inactivated early in embryogenesis. Expression of most genes on this chromosome is shut down, and the inactive state is maintained throughout life in all somatic cells. It is generally believed that X-inactivation evolved as a means of achieving equal gene expression in males and females (dosage compensation). Following degeneration of genes on the Y chromosome, gene expression on X chromosomes in males and females is upregulated. This results in closer to optimal gene expression in males, but deleterious overexpression in females. In response, selection is proposed to favor inactivation of one of the X chromosomes in females, restoring optimal gene expression. Here, we make a first attempt at shedding light on this intricate process from a population genetic perspective, elucidating the sexually antagonistic selective forces involved. We derive conditions for the process to work and analyze evolutionary stability of the system. The implications of our results are discussed in the light of empirical findings and a recently proposed alternative hypothesis for the evolution of X-inactivation.
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Vol. 62 • No. 8