Reptile pregnancy is underpinned by complex changes in uterine gene expression

a comparative analysis of the uterine transcriptome in viviparous and oviparous lizards

Oliver W. Griffith, Matthew C. Brandley, Katherine Belov, Michael B. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Citations (Scopus)
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The evolution of new organs is difficult to study because most vertebrate organs evolved only once, more than 500 million years ago. An ideal model for understanding complex organ evolution is the placenta, a structure that is present in live bearing reptiles and mammals (amniotes), which has evolved independently more than 115 times. Using transcriptomics, we characterized the uterine gene expression patterns through the reproductive cycle of a viviparous skink lizard, Pseudemoia entrecasteauxii. Then we compare these patterns with the patterns of gene expression from two oviparous skinks Lampropholis guichenoti and Lerista bougainvillii. While thousands of genes are differentially expressed between pregnant and non-pregnant uterine tissue in the viviparous skink, few differentially expressed genes were identified between gravid and non-gravid oviparous skinks. This finding suggests that in P. entrecasteauxii, a pregnant-specific gene expression profile has evolved, allowing for the evolution of pregnancy-specific innovations in the uterus. We find substantial gene expression differences between the uterus of the chorioallantoic and the yolk sac placenta in P. entrecasteauxii, suggesting these placental regions are specialized for different placental functions. In particular, the chorioallantoic placenta is likely a major site of nutrient transport by membrane-bound transport proteins, while the yolk sac placenta also likely transports nutrients but via apocrine secretions. We discuss how the evolution of transcription factor networks is likely to underpin the evolution of the new transcriptional states in the uterine tissue of viviparous reptiles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3226-3239
Number of pages14
JournalGenome Biology and Evolution
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2016. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • viviparity
  • placenta
  • RNA-seq
  • lizard
  • convergent evolution
  • Pseudemoia

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