The importance of regulatory incompatibilities to the early stages of speciation remains unclear. Hybrid mammals often show extreme parent-of-origin growth effects that are thought to be a consequence of disrupted genetic imprinting (parent-specific epigenetic gene silencing) during early development. Here, we test the long-standing hypothesis that abnormal hybrid growth reflects disrupted gene expression due to loss of imprinting (LOI) in hybrid placentas, resulting in dosage imbalances between paternal growth factors and maternal growth repressors. We analyzed placental gene expression in reciprocal dwarf hamster hybrids that show extreme parent-of-origin growth effects relative to their parental species. In massively enlarged hybrid placentas, we observed both extensive transgressive expression of growth-related genes and biallelic expression of many genes that were paternally silenced in normal sized hybrids. However, the apparent widespread disruption of paternal silencing was coupled with reduced gene expression levels overall. These patterns are contrary to the predictions of the LOI model and indicate that hybrid misexpression of dosage-sensitive genes is caused by other regulatory mechanisms in this system. Collectively, our results support a central role for disrupted gene expression and imprinting in the evolution of mammalian hybrid inviability, but call into question the generality of the widely invoked LOI model.
- Gene expression
- hybrid inviability