How do you keep a few thousand dermatologists in an auditorium at noon on a sunny day in Denver, the legal marijuana capital of America? SEX.
Sex and dermatologists have a long historical tradition of hanging out together. The specialty included syphilology from its inception. This audience of international dermatologists heard David C. Page, MD, director of the Whitehead Institute, professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, elucidate how the puny and pathetic-looking Y chromosome could contribute to human health and evolution. His slides were clear, free of clutter and graphs: just the facts, a “Joe Friday” approach, explaining how sex works — in a manner that was PG-rated and suitable for all ages.
The Big Picture: Page first reassured the XYs in the audience that he is sure there will always be a human Y chromosome, even as the sun begins to dim in our solar system. He is most keen on elucidating mechanisms for those diseases which differ in incidence between the XXs and the XYs. After the low hanging fruit related to hormones and the immune system is gathered, diseases remain whose marked male predilection requires creative thought to explain, including dilated cardiomyopathy, autoimmune diseases, and autism. The Y chromosome is more than a molecular scrotal sac in the nucleus protecting its one or two critical genes.
Research on DNA not coding for proteins is becoming more important in many biological systems. Page did not discuss but is obviously expert in the random inactivation of maternal and paternal X chromosomes in women. Now single cell analytical methodologies allow many of these cellular questions to be addressed experimentally.
Clinicians and scientists have wondered for millennia about the biological differences between males and females and their relationship to diseases. This ancient conundrum is ripe for the picking.
David C. Page, MD was a guest lecturer at the Plenary Session of the American Academy of Dermatology‘s 72nd annual meeting, March 23, 2014 in Denver, Co, USA. His talk was entitled ” Rethinking the Pristine X and Rotting Y Chromosomes“.