New light is being shed on a little-known role of Y chromosome genes, specific to males, that could explain why men suffer differently than women from various diseases, including Covid-19.
The findings were published this month in Scientific Reports by Université de Montréal professor Christian Deschepper, director of the Experimental Cardiovascular Biology research unit of the Montreal Clinical Research Institute.
“Our discovery provides a better understanding of how male genes on the Y chromosome allow male cells to function differently from female cells,” said Deschepper, the study’s lead author, who is also an associate professor at McGill University.
“In the future, these results could help to shed some light on why some diseases occur differently in men and women.”
Genes that females lack
Humans each have 23 pairs of chromosomes, including one pair of sex chromosomes. While females carry two X sex chromosomes, males carry one X and one Y
In 1997, the very first Neanderthal DNA sequence — just a small part of the mitochondrial genome — was determined from an individual discovered in the Neander Valley, Germany, in 1856. Since then, improvements in molecular techniques have enabled scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology to determine high quality sequences of the autosomal genomes of several Neanderthals, and led to the discovery of an entirely new group of extinct humans, the Denisovans, who were relatives of the Neanderthals in Asia.
However, because all specimens well-preserved enough to yield sufficient amounts of DNA have been from female individuals, comprehensive studies of the Y chromosomes of Neanderthals and Denisovans have not yet been possible. Unlike the rest of the autosomal genome, which represents a rich tapestry of thousands of genealogies of any individual’s ancestors, Y chromosomes have a peculiar mode of inheritance — they are passed exclusively from father