Genes involved in spermatogenesis tend to evolve rapidly, but we lack a clear understanding of how protein sequences and patterns of gene expression evolve across this complex developmental process. We used fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) to generate expression data for early (meiotic) and late (postmeiotic) cell types across 13 inbred strains of mice (Mus) spanning ∼7 My of evolution. We used these comparative developmental data to investigate the evolution of lineage-specific expression, protein-coding sequences, and expression levels. We found increased lineage specificity and more rapid protein-coding and expression divergence during late spermatogenesis, suggesting that signatures of rapid testis molecular evolution are punctuated across sperm development. Despite strong overall developmental parallels in these components of molecular evolution, protein and expression divergences were only weakly correlated across genes. We detected more rapid protein evolution on the X chromosome relative to the autosomes, whereas X-linked gene expression tended to be relatively more conserved likely reflecting chromosome-specific regulatory constraints. Using allele-specific FACS expression data from crosses between four strains, we found that the relative contributions of different regulatory mechanisms also differed between cell types. Genes showing cis-regulatory changes were more common late in spermatogenesis, and tended to be associated with larger differences in expression levels and greater expression divergence between species. In contrast, genes with trans-acting changes were more common early and tended to be more conserved across species. Our findings advance understanding of gene evolution across spermatogenesis and underscore the fundamental importance of developmental context in molecular evolutionary studies.
- allele-specific expression
- faster-X evolution
- fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS)
- gene expression
- phylogenetic contrasts