Escape from X-inactivation in twins exhibits intra- and inter-individual variability across tissues and is heritable

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X-chromosome inactivation (XCI) silences one X in female cells to balance sex-differences in X-dosage. A subset of X-linked genes escape XCI, but the extent to which this phenomenon occurs and how it varies across tissues and in a population is as yet unclear. To characterize incidence and variability of escape across individuals and tissues, we conducted a transcriptomic study of escape in adipose, skin, lymphoblastoid cell lines and immune cells in 248 healthy individuals exhibiting skewed XCI. We quantify XCI escape from a linear model of genes’ allelic fold-change and XIST-based degree of XCI skewing. We identify 62 genes, including 19 lncRNAs, with previously unknown patterns of escape. We find a range of tissue-specificity, with 11% of genes escaping XCI constitutively across tissues and 23% demonstrating tissue-restricted escape, including cell type-specific escape across immune cells of the same individual. We also detect substantial inter-individual variability in escape. Monozygotic twins share more similar escape than dizygotic twins, indicating that genetic factors may underlie inter-individual differences in escape. However, discordant escape also occurs within monozygotic co-twins, suggesting environmental factors also influence escape. Altogether, these data indicate that XCI escape is an under-appreciated source of transcriptional differences, and an intricate phenotype impacting variable trait expressivity in females.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1010556
JournalPLoS Genetics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2023


  • Humans
  • Female
  • X Chromosome Inactivation/genetics
  • Chromosomes, Human, X/genetics
  • Genes, X-Linked/genetics
  • Twins, Monozygotic/genetics
  • Phenotype

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