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Open Access Research article

Quantitative molecular assessment of chimerism across tissues in marmosets and tamarins

Carolyn G Sweeney, Elizabeth Curran, Susan V Westmoreland, Keith G Mansfield and Eric J Vallender*

Author affiliations

New England Primate Research Center, Harvard Medical School, One Pine Hill Drive, Southborough, MA 01772, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2012, 13:98  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-98

Published: 19 March 2012

Abstract

Background

Marmosets are playing an increasingly large and important role in biomedical research. They share genetic, anatomical, and physiological similarities with humans and other primate model species, but their smaller sizes, reproductive efficiency, and amenability to genetic manipulation offer an added practicality. While their unique biology can be exploited to provide insights into disease and function, it is also important that researchers are aware of the differences that exist between marmosets and other species. The New World monkey family Callitrichidae, containing both marmoset and tamarin species, typically produces dizygotic twins that show chimerism in the blood and other cells from the hematopoietic lineage. Recently, a study extended these findings to identify chimerism in many tissues, including somatic tissues from other lineages and germ cells. This has raised the intriguing possibility that chimerism may play an increasingly pervasive role in marmoset biology, ranging from natural behavioral implications to increased variability and complexity in biomedical studies.

Results

Using a quantitative PCR based methodology, Y-chromosomes can be reliably detected in the females with male fraternal twins allowing for a relative quantification of chimerism levels between individuals and tissues. With this approach in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) and cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus), chimerism was detected across a broad array of tissues. Chimerism levels were significantly higher in tissues primarily derived from the hematopoietic lineage, while they were lower, though still detectable, in tissues with other origins. Interestingly, animals with a characteristic marmoset wasting disease show higher levels of chimerism in those tissues affected. Fibroblast cell lines from chimeric individuals, however, are not found to be chimeric themselves.

Conclusion

Taken together, the levels of chimerism in tissues of different origins coupled with other lines of evidence suggest that indeed only hematopoietic cell lineages are chimeric in callitrichids. The chimerism detected in other tissues is likely the result of blood or lymphocytic infiltration. Using molecular methods to detect chimerism in a tissue sample seems to have allowed a substantial increase in the ability to detect these minor cell populations.