The search for a marsupial XIC reveals a break with vertebrate synteny.
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X-chromosome inactivation (XCI) evolved in mammals to deal with X-chromosome dosage imbalance between the XX female and the XY male. In eutherian mammals, random XCI of the soma requires a master regulatory locus known as the 'X-inactivation center' (XIC/Xic), wherein lies the noncoding XIST/Xist silencer RNA and its regulatory antisense Tsix gene. By contrast, marsupial XCI is imprinted to occur on the paternal X chromosome. To determine whether marsupials and eutherians share the XIC-driven mechanism, we search for the sequence equivalents in the genome of the South American opossum, Monodelphis domestica. Positional cloning and bioinformatic analysis reveal several interesting findings. First, protein-coding genes that flank the eutherian XIC are well-conserved in M. domestica, as well as in chicken, frog, and pufferfish. However, in M. domestica we fail to identify any recognizable XIST or TSIX equivalents. Moreover, cytogenetic mapping shows a surprising break in synteny with eutherian mammals and other vertebrates. Therefore, during the evolution of the marsupial X chromosome, one or more rearrangements broke up an otherwise evolutionarily conserved block of vertebrate genes. The failure to find XIST/TSIX in M. domestica may suggest that the ancestral XIC is too divergent to allow for detection by current methods. Alternatively, the XIC may have arisen relatively late in mammalian evolution, possibly in eutherians with the emergence of random XCI. The latter argues that marsupial XCI does not require XIST and opens the search for alternative mechanisms of dosage compensation.