Evolution of human Y-chromosome DNA

Louis M. Kunkel, Kirby D. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


We have used human male-specific 3.4 kb Hae III restriction endonuclease fragments to explore the evolutionary history of man's Y-chromosome. We have identified four sets of reiterated, sequences on the basis of their relative sequence homology with autosomal DNA. The sequences account for approximately 40% of the human Y-chromosome, are interspersed within the same 3.4 kb Hae III fragments, are heterogeneous and contain all reiterated DNA previously demonstrated to be specific for the Y-chromosome (it-Y DNA). Y-specific 3.4 kb Hae III sequences do not reassociate with either human female or ape DNA at standard reassociation criteria. However, approximately half of it-Y DNA (cross reacting it-Y) reassociates with both human female and ape DNA at reduced reassociation criteria. The remaining half (Y-specific it-Y) retains its specificity for the human Y-chromosome. These two sets of it-Y DNA have distinct reiteration frequencies and thermal stabilities with their Y-chromosome homologs. Non-Y-specific 3.4 kb Hae III sequences reassociate with both human female and ape DNA at standard reassociation criteria. The abundance of these non-Y-specific sequences decreases as a function of their evolutionary distance from man. One subset of non-Y-specific 3.4 kb Hae III sequences forms stable duplexes with human Y-chromosome DNA and with human and ape autosomal DNA. No detectable base-mismatch occurs among these homologs suggesting complete conservation of these sequences during primate evolution. The second subset of Non-Y-specific Hae III sequences form stable duplexes with human Y-chromosome DNA but highly mismatched duplexes with human and ape autosomal DNA. The finding that homologs of 3.4 kb Hae III sequences are not found within the Y-chromosome of apes but are only present in autosomes suggests that 3.4 kb Hae III sequences are largely autosomal in origin. Since autosomal homologs of most 3.4 kb Hae III-sequences exhibit a greater degree of divergence than those localized to the Y-chromosome, their evolutionary history seems to be chromosome-dependent. Our findings are not easily correlated with the comparative morphology of primate Y-chromosomes and suggest that sequence rearrangement has been a major event in the evolution of the human Y-chromosome. The significance of the specific interspersion of four sets of reiterated sequences, with distinct evolutionary histories, within a repeating unit specific to the human Y-chromosome is not clear. The apparent conservation of at least some of these reiterated sequences suggests they may be of functional importance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-228
Number of pages20
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 1982

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)

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