Embryonic development in mammals is highly sensitive to changes in gene expression within the placenta. The placenta is also highly enriched for genes showing parent-of-origin or imprinted expression, which is predicted to evolve rapidly in response to parental conflict. However, little is known about the evolution of placental gene expression, or if divergence of placental gene expression plays an important role in mammalian speciation. We used crosses between two species of dwarf hamsters (Phodopus sungorus and Phodopus campbelli) to examine the genetic and regulatory underpinnings of severe placental overgrowth in their hybrids. Using quantitative genetic mapping and mitochondrial substitution lines, we show that overgrowth of hybrid placentas was primarily caused by genetic differences on the maternally inherited P. sungorus X chromosome. Mitochondrial interactions did not contribute to abnormal hybrid placental development, and there was only weak correspondence between placental disruption and embryonic growth. Genome-wide analyses of placental transcriptomes from the parental species and first- and second-generation hybrids revealed a central group of co-expressed X-linked and autosomal genes that were highly enriched for maternally biased expression. Expression of this gene network was strongly correlated with placental size and showed widespread misexpression dependent on epistatic interactions with X-linked hybrid incompatibilities. Collectively, our results indicate that the X chromosome is likely to play a prominent role in the evolution of placental gene expression and the accumulation of hybrid developmental barriers between mammalian species.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- gene expression
- genomic imprinting
- reproductive isolation