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Open Access Research article

Sex dependent imprinting effects on complex traits in mice

Reinmar Hager1*, James M Cheverud2, Larry J Leamy3 and Jason B Wolf1

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PT, UK

2 Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO 63110, USA

3 Department of Biology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina 28223, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:303  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-303

Published: 31 October 2008

Abstract

Background

Genomic imprinting is an epigenetic source of variation in quantitative traits that results from monoallelic gene expression, where commonly either only the paternally- or the maternally-derived allele is expressed. Imprinting has been shown to affect a diversity of complex traits in a variety of species. For several such quantitative traits sex-dependent genetic effects have been discovered, but whether imprinting effects also show such sex-dependence has yet to be explored. Moreover, theoretical work on the evolution of sex-dependent genomic imprinting effects makes specific predictions about the phenotypic patterns of such effects, which, however, have not been assessed empirically to date.

Results

Using a genome-scan for loci affecting a set of complex growth and body composition traits from an intercross between two divergent mouse strains, we investigated possible sex-dependent imprinting effects. Our results demonstrate for the first time the existence of genomic imprinting effects that depend on sex and are not related to sex-chromosome effects. We detected a total of 13 loci on 11 chromosomes that showed significant differences between the sexes in imprinting effects. Most loci showed imprinting effects in only one sex, with eight imprinted effects found in males and six in females. One locus showed sex-dependent imprinting effects in both sexes for different traits. The absence of an imprinting effect in one sex was not necessarily indicative of the overall inactivity of the locus in that sex, as for several loci a significant additive or dominance effect was detected. Moreover, three loci exhibited significant additive effects in both sexes but their imprinting effect was restricted to one sex.

Conclusion

Our results clearly show that imprinting effects can be sex-dependent and also suggest that new candidate imprinted loci can be detected when taking account of sex-specific imprinting effects. However, predictions made about the evolution of sex-dependent imprinting effects and associated phenotypic patterns cannot be unequivocally supported at present and further research into the selection pressures applied to the strains of mice used in our study is required.