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Sex differences in skeletal muscle revealed through fiber type, capillarity, and transcriptomics profiling in mice


Skeletal muscle anatomy and physiology are sexually dimorphic but molecular underpinnings and muscle-specificity are not well-established. Variances in metabolic health, fitness level, sedentary behavior, genetics, and age make it difficult to discern inherent sex effects in humans. Therefore, mice under well-controlled conditions were used to determine female and male (n = 19/sex) skeletal muscle fiber type/size and capillarity in superficial and deep gastrocnemius (GA-s, GA-d), soleus (SOL), extensor digitorum longus (EDL), and plantaris (PLT), and transcriptome patterns were also determined (GA, SOL). Summed muscle weight strongly correlated with lean body mass (r2  = 0.67, p < 0.0001, both sexes). Other phenotypes were muscle-specific: e.g., capillarity (higher density, male GA-s), myofiber size (higher, male EDL), and fiber type (higher, lower type I and type II prevalences, respectively, in female SOL). There were broad differences in transcriptomics, with >6000 (GA) and >4000 (SOL) mRNAs differentially-expressed by sex; only a minority of these were shared across GA and SOL. Pathway analyses revealed differences in ribosome biology, transcription, and RNA processing. Curation of sexually dimorphic muscle transcripts shared in GA and SOL, and literature datasets from mice and humans, identified 11 genes that we propose are canonical to innate sex differences in muscle: Xist, Kdm6a, Grb10, Oas2, Rps4x (higher, females) and Ddx3y, Kdm5d, Irx3, Wwp1, Aldh1a1, Cd24a (higher, males). These genes and those with the highest "sex-biased" expression in our study do not contain estrogen-response elements (exception, Greb1), but a subset are proposed to be regulated through androgen response elements. We hypothesize that innate muscle sexual dimorphism in mice and humans is triggered and then maintained by classic X inactivation (Xist, females) and Y activation (Ddx3y, males), with coincident engagement of X encoded (Kdm6a) and Y encoded (Kdm5d) demethylase epigenetic regulators that are complemented by modulation at some regions of the genome that respond to androgen.

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