Methylation changes associated with early maturation stages in the Atlantic salmon
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BMC Genetics 2011, 12:86 doi:10.1186/1471-2156-12-86Published: 7 October 2011
Early maturation in the Atlantic salmon is an interesting subject for numerous research lines. Prior to sea migration, parr can reach sexual maturation and successfully fertilize adult female eggs during the reproductive season. These individuals are known as precocious parr, mature parr or "sneakers". Reasons for early maturation are unknown and this transitory stage is usually considered to be a threshold trait. Here, we compare methylation patterns between mature and immature salmon parr from two different rivers in order to infer if such methylation differences may be related to their maturation condition. First we analyzed genetic differences between rivers by means of AFLPs. Then, we compared the DNA methylation differences between mature and immature parrs, using a Methylation-Sensitive Amplified Polymorphism (MSAP), which is a modification of the AFLPs method by making use of the differential sensitivity of a pair of restriction enzymes isoschizomeres to cytosine methylation. The tissues essayed included brain, liver and gonads.
AFLPs statistical analysis showed that there was no significant differentiation between rivers or a significant differentiation between maturation states in each river. MSAP statistical analysis showed that among the three tissues sampled, the gonads had the highest number of significant single-locus variation among populations with 74 loci followed by brain with 70 and finally liver with only 12. Principal components analysis (PCA) of the MSAP profiles revealed different profiles among different tissues (liver, brain and testis) clearly separating maturation states in the testis tissue when compared to the liver.
Our results reveal that genetically-similar mature and immature salmon parr present high levels of DNA methylation variation in two of the three analyzed tissues. We hypothesize that early maturation may be mostly mediated by epigenetic processes rather than by genetic differences between parrs. To our knowledge this is the first study that attempt to link phenotypic plasticity in salmonids and epigenetic changes.