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XACT Noncoding RNA Competes with XIST in the Control of X Chromosome Activity during Human Early Development.


Sex chromosome dosage compensation is essential in most metazoans, but the developmental timing and underlying mechanisms vary significantly, even among placental mammals. Here we identify human-specific mechanisms regulating X chromosome activity in early embryonic development. Single-cell RNA sequencing and imaging revealed co-activation and accumulation of the long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) XACT and XIST on active X chromosomes in both early human pre-implantation embryos and naive human embryonic stem cells. In these contexts, the XIST RNA adopts an unusual, highly dispersed organization, which may explain why it does not trigger X chromosome inactivation at this stage. Functional studies in transgenic mouse cells show that XACT influences XIST accumulation in cis. Our findings therefore suggest a mechanism involving antagonistic activity of XIST and XACT in controlling X chromosome activity in early human embryos, and they highlight the contribution of rapidly evolving lncRNAs to species-specific developmental mechanisms.