Transcriptional silencing of the human inactive X chromosome is induced by the XIST gene within the human X-inactivation center. The XIST allele must be turned off on one X chromosome to maintain its activity in cells of both sexes. In the mouse placenta, where X inactivation is imprinted (the paternal X chromosome is always inactive), the maternal Xist allele is repressed by a cis-acting antisense transcript, encoded by the Tsix gene. However, it remains to be seen whether this antisense transcript protects the future active X chromosome during random inactivation in the embryo proper. We recently identified the human TSIX gene and showed that it lacks key regulatory elements needed for the imprinting function of murine Tsix. Now, using RNA FISH for cellular localization of transcripts in human fetal cells, we show that human TSIX antisense transcripts are unable to repress XIST. In fact, TSIX is transcribed only from the inactive X chromosome and is coexpressed with XIST. Also, TSIX is not maternally imprinted in placental tissues, and its transcription persists in placental and fetal tissues, throughout embryogenesis. Therefore, the repression of Xist by mouse Tsix has no counterpart in humans, and TSIX is not the gene that protects the active X chromosome from random inactivation. Because human TSIX cannot imprint X inactivation in the placenta, it serves as a mutant for mouse Tsix, providing insights into features responsible for antisense activity in imprinted X inactivation.
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