Purifying Selection Maintains Dosage-Sensitive Genes during Degeneration of the Threespine Stickleback Y Chromosome.

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Molecular biology and evolution (2015)


Sex chromosomes are subject to unique evolutionary forces that cause suppression of recombination, leading to sequence degeneration and the formation of heteromorphic chromosome pairs (i.e., XY or ZW). Although progress has been made in characterizing the outcomes of these evolutionary processes on vertebrate sex chromosomes, it is still unclear how recombination suppression and sequence divergence typically occur and how gene dosage imbalances are resolved in the heterogametic sex. The threespine stickleback fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus) is a powerful model system to explore vertebrate sex chromosome evolution, as it possesses an XY sex chromosome pair at relatively early stages of differentiation. Using a combination of whole-genome and transcriptome sequencing, we characterized sequence evolution and gene expression across the sex chromosomes. We uncovered two distinct evolutionary strata that correspond with known structural rearrangements on the Y chromosome. In the oldest stratum, only a handful of genes remain, and these genes are under strong purifying selection. By comparing sex-linked gene expression with expression of autosomal orthologs in an outgroup, we show that dosage compensation has not evolved in threespine sticklebacks through upregulation of the X chromosome in males. Instead, in the oldest stratum, the genes that still possess a Y chromosome allele are enriched for genes predicted to be dosage sensitive in mammals and yeast. Our results suggest that dosage imbalances may have been avoided at haploinsufficient genes by retaining function of the Y chromosome allele through strong purifying selection.