Molecular antagonism between X-chromosome and autosome signals determines nematode sex.
- Author(s): Farboud, Behnom
- Nix, Paola
- Jow, Margaret M
- Gladden, John M
- Meyer, Barbara J
- et al.
Published Web Locationhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3672649/
Sex is determined in Caenorhabditis elegans by the ratio of X chromosomes to the sets of autosomes, the X:A signal. A set of genes called X signal elements (XSEs) communicates X-chromosome dose by repressing the masculinizing sex determination switch gene xol-1 (XO lethal) in a dose-dependent manner. xol-1 is active in 1X:2A embryos (males) but repressed in 2X:2A embryos (hermaphrodites). Here we showed that the autosome dose is communicated by a set of autosomal signal elements (ASEs) that act in a cumulative, dose-dependent manner to counter XSEs by stimulating xol-1 transcription. We identified new ASEs and explored the biochemical basis by which ASEs antagonize XSEs to determine sex. Multiple antagonistic molecular interactions carried out on a single promoter explain how different X:A values elicit different sexual fates. XSEs (nuclear receptors and homeodomain proteins) and ASEs (T-box and zinc finger proteins) bind directly to several sites on xol-1 to counteract each other's activities and thereby regulate xol-1 transcription. Disrupting ASE- and XSE-binding sites in vivo recapitulated the misregulation of xol-1 transcription caused by disrupting cognate signal element genes. XSE- and ASE-binding sites are distinct and nonoverlapping, suggesting that direct competition for xol-1 binding is not how XSEs counter ASEs. Instead, XSEs likely antagonize ASEs by recruiting cofactors with reciprocal activities that induce opposite transcriptional states. Most ASE- and XSE-binding sites overlap xol-1's -1 nucleosome, which carries activating chromatin marks only when xol-1 is turned on. Coactivators and corepressors tethered by proteins similar to ASEs and XSEs are known to deposit and remove such marks. The concept of a sex signal comprising competing XSEs and ASEs arose as a theory for fruit flies a century ago. Ironically, while the recent work of others showed that the fly sex signal does not fit this simple paradigm, our work shows that the worm signal does.