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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The unique genomic properties of sex-biased genes: Insights from avian microarray data

Judith E Mank*, Lina Hultin-Rosenberg, Matthew T Webster and Hans Ellegren

Author Affiliations

Department of Evolutionary Biology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18D, SE 752 36 Uppsala, Sweden

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BMC Genomics 2008, 9:148  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-9-148

Published: 31 March 2008

Abstract

Background

In order to develop a framework for the analysis of sex-biased genes, we present a characterization of microarray data comparing male and female gene expression in 18 day chicken embryos for brain, gonad, and heart tissue.

Results

From the 15982 significantly expressed coding regions that have been assigned to either the autosomes or the Z chromosome (12979 in brain, 13301 in gonad, and 12372 in heart), roughly 18% were significantly sex-biased in any one tissue, though only 4 gene targets were biased in all tissues. The gonad was the most sex-biased tissue, followed by the brain. Sex-biased autosomal genes tended to be expressed at lower levels and in fewer tissues than unbiased gene targets, and autosomal somatic sex-biased genes had more expression noise than similar unbiased genes. Sex-biased genes linked to the Z-chromosome showed reduced expression in females, but not in males, when compared to unbiased Z-linked genes, and sex-biased Z-linked genes were also expressed in fewer tissues than unbiased Z coding regions. Third position GC content, and codon usage bias showed some sex-biased effects, primarily for autosomal genes expressed in the gonad. Finally, there were several over-represented Gene Ontology terms in the sex-biased gene sets.

Conclusion

On the whole, this analysis suggests that sex-biased genes have unique genomic and organismal properties that delineate them from genes that are expressed equally in males and females.