Dosage regulation, and variation in gene expression and copy number of human Y chromosome ampliconic genes


The Y chromosome harbors nine multi-copy ampliconic gene families expressed exclusively in testis. The gene copies within each family are >99% identical to each other, which poses a major challenge in evaluating their copy number. Recent studies demonstrated high variation in Y ampliconic gene copy number among humans. However, how this variation affects expression levels in human testis remains understudied. Here we developed a novel computational tool Ampliconic Copy Number Estimator (AmpliCoNE) that utilizes read sequencing depth information to estimate Y ampliconic gene copy number per family. We applied this tool to whole-genome sequencing data of 149 men with matched testis expression data whose samples are part of the Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project. We found that the Y ampliconic gene families with low copy number in humans were deleted or pseudogenized in non-human great apes, suggesting relaxation of functional constraints. Among the Y ampliconic gene families, higher copy number leads to higher expression. Within the Y ampliconic gene families, copy number does not influence gene expression, rather a high tolerance for variation in gene expression was observed in testis of presumably healthy men. No differences in gene expression levels were found among major Y haplogroups. Age positively correlated with expression levels of the HSFY and PRY gene families in the African subhaplogroup E1b, but not in the European subhaplogroups R1b and I1. We also found that expression of five out of six Y ampliconic gene families is coordinated with that of their non-Y (i.e. X or autosomal) homologs. Indeed, five ampliconic gene families had consistently lower expression levels when compared to their non-Y homologs suggesting dosage regulation, while the HSFY family had higher expression levels than its X homolog and thus lacked dosage regulation.

PLOS Genetics