What research of male Y chromosome tells us about genes, disease

Human chromosomes
This undated image made available by the NIH's National Cancer Institute shows the 46 human chromosomes in blue, with telomeres appearing as white points on the ends. Some previous studies have associated having longer telomeres with better health and longer lives. Telomeres haven't been proven to cause those benefits in the general population, but a number of researchers think they may hold secrets for things like longevity and cancer.
AP Photo/NIH, National Cancer Institute, Hesed Padilla-Nash, Thomas Ried

When it comes to the Y chromosome, we know less than one would expect. However, Dr. David Page is on a quest to change that.

As the director of the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Page studies the evolution of the Y chromosome and the role that sex plays in the treatment of diseases and disorders.

"I have spent the better part of the last 25 years defending the honor of this small, downtrodden chromosome in the face of numerous insults to its character," Page said during a 2010 talk.

More from The New York Times:

"Throughout human bodies, the cells of males and females are biochemically different," Dr. Page said. The genome may be controlled slightly differently because of this variation in the 12 regulatory genes, which he thinks could contribute to the differing incidence of many diseases in men and women.

Differences between male and female tissues are often attributed to the powerful influence of sex hormones. But now that the 12 regulatory genes are known to be active throughout the body, there is clearly an intrinsic difference in male and female cells even before the sex hormones are brought into play.

"We are only beginning to understand the full extent of the differences in molecular biology of males and females," Andrew Clark, a geneticist at Cornell University, wrote in a commentary in Nature on the two reports.

Page joins The Daily Circuit to tell us the latest research on the Y chromosome and what we can expect to learn in future studies.

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