The caenophidian (assigned also as “advanced”) snakes are traditionally viewed as a group of reptiles with a limited karyotypic variation and stable ZZ/ZW sex chromosomes. The W chromosomes of the caenophidian snakes are heterochromatic, and pioneering studies demonstrated that they are rich in repetitive elements. However, a comparative study of the evolutionary dynamics of the repetitive content of the W chromosome across the whole lineage is missing. Using molecular-cytogenetic techniques, we explored the distribution of four repetitive motifs (microsatellites GATA, GACA, AG and telomeric-like sequences), which are frequently accumulated in differentiated sex chromosomes in vertebrates, in the genomes of 13 species of the caenophidian snakes covering a wide phylogenetic spectrum of the lineage. The results demonstrate a striking variability in the morphology and the repetitive content of the W chromosomes even between closely-related species, which is in contrast to the homology and long-term stability of the gene content of the caenophidian Z chromosome. We uncovered that the tested microsatellite motifs are accumulated on the degenerated, heterochromatic W chromosomes in all tested species of the caenophidian snakes with the exception of the Javan file snake representing a basal clade. On the other hand, the presence of the accumulation of the telomeric-like sequences on the caenophidian W chromosome is evolutionary much less stable. Moreover, we demonstrated that large accumulations of telomeric-like motifs on the W chromosome contribute to sexual differences in the number of copies of the telomeric and telomeric-like repeats estimated by quantitative PCR, which might be confusing and incorrectly interpreted as sexual differences in telomere length.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.