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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Mito-nuclear interactions as drivers of gene movement on and off the X-chromosome

Björn Rogell1*, Rebecca Dean1, Bernardo Lemos2 and Damian K Dowling1*

Author Affiliations

1 School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton 3800, Australia

2 Molecular and Integrative Physiological Sciences Program, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02115, USA

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:330  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-330

Published: 2 May 2014



Mito-nuclear gene interactions regulate energy conversion, and are fundamental to eukaryotes. Generally, mito-nuclear coadaptation would be most efficient if the interacting nuclear genes were X-linked, because this maximizes the probability of favorable mito-nuclear allelic combinations co-transmitting across generations. Thus, under a coadaptation (CA) hypothesis, nuclear genes essential for mitochondrial function might be under selection to relocate to the X-chromosome. However, maternal inheritance predisposes the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) to accumulate variation that, while male-harming, is benign to females. Numerous nuclear genes were recently reported in Drosophila melanogaster, which exhibit male-specific patterns of differential expression when placed alongside different mtDNA haplotypes, suggesting that nuclear genes are sensitive to an underlying male-specific mitochondrial mutation load. These genes are thus candidates for involvement in mito-nuclear interactions driven by sexual conflict (SC), and selection might have moved them off the X-chromosome to facilitate an optimal evolutionary counter-response, through males, to the presence of male-harming mtDNA mutations. Furthermore, the presence of male-harming mtDNA mutations could exert selection for modifiers on the Y-chromosome, thus placing these mito-sensitive nuclear genes at the center of an evolutionary tug-of-war between mitochondrion and Y-chromosome.

We test these hypotheses by examining the chromosomal distributions of three distinct sets of mitochondrial-interacting nuclear genes in D. melanogaster; the first is a list of genes with mitochondrial annotations by Gene Ontologies, the second is a list comprising the core evolutionary-conserved mitochondrial proteome, and the third is a list of genes involved in male-specific responses to maternally-inherited mitochondrial variation and which might be putative targets of Y-chromosomal regulation.


Genes with mitochondrial annotations and genes representing the mitochondrial proteome do not exhibit statistically-significant biases in chromosomal representation. However, genes exhibiting sex-specific sensitivity to mtDNA are under-represented on the X-chromosome, over-represented among genes known to be sensitive to Y-chromosomal variation, and among genes previously associated with male fitness, but under-represented among genes associated with direct sexual antagonism.


Our results are consistent with the SC hypothesis, suggesting that mitochondrial mutational pressure selects for gene movement off-the-X, hence enabling mito-nuclear coadaptation to proceed along trajectories that result in optimized fitness in both sexes.

Gene expression; Sexual selection; Sexual conflict; Genomic conflict; mtDNA; Genome evolution