Female mammals have two X chromosomes and males have a single X and a smaller, male-determining Y chromosome. The dosage of X-linked gene products is equalized between the sexes by the genetic inactivation of one X chromosome in females. The characteristics of the mechanism of X-chromosome inactivation differ in eutherian and metatherian mammals, and it has been suggested that the metatherian system represents a more primitive stage. The present study of monotreme sex chromosomes and X-chromosome inactivation suggests that the prototherian mammals may represent an even more primitive stage. There is extensive G-band homology between the monotreme X and Y chromosomes, and differences in the patterns of replication of the two X chromosomes in females suggest that X inactivation is tissue specific and confined to the unpaired segment of the X. On the basis of these results, we propose a model for the differentiation of mammalian sex chromosomes and the evolution of the mechanism of X-chromosome inactivation. This model involves a gradual reduction of the Y chromosome and an accompanying gradual recruitment of (newly unpaired) X-linked loci under the control of a single inactivation center.