European journal of human genetics : EJHG 2017 08 3025(11) 1181-1188 doi 10.1038/ejhg.2017.128
The Y chromosome has long been considered a ‘genetic wasteland’ on a trajectory to completely disappear from the human genome. The perception of its physiological function was restricted to sex determination and spermatogenesis. These views have been challenged in recent times with the identification of multiple ubiquitously expressed Y-chromosome genes and the discovery of several unexpected associations between the Y chromosome, immune system and complex polygenic traits. The collected evidence suggests that the Y chromosome influences immune and inflammatory responses in men, translating into genetically programmed susceptibility to diseases with a strong immune component. Phylogenetic studies reveal that carriers of a common European lineage of the Y chromosome (haplogroup I) possess increased risk of coronary artery disease. This occurs amidst upregulation of inflammation and suppression of adaptive immunity in this Y lineage, as well as inferior outcomes in human immunodeficiency virus infection. From structural analysis and experimental data, the UTY (Ubiquitously Transcribed Tetratricopeptide Repeat Containing, Y-Linked) gene is emerging as a promising candidate underlying the associations between Y-chromosome variants and the immunity-driven susceptibility to complex disease. This review synthesises the recent structural, experimental and clinical insights into the human Y chromosome in the context of men’s susceptibility to disease (with a particular emphasis on cardiovascular disease) and provides an overview of the paradigm shift in the perception of the Y chromosome.