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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2005 May;29(3):421-30. Epub 2005 Jan 18.

Imprinted gene expression in the brain.

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  • 1Neurobiology and Developmental Genetics Programmes, The Babraham Institute, Babraham, Cambridge CB2 4AT, UK.


In normal mammals, autosomal genes are present in duplicate (i.e. two alleles), one inherited from the father, and one from the mother. For the majority of genes both alleles are transcribed (or expressed) equally. However, for a small subset of genes, known as imprinted genes, only one allele is expressed in a parent-of-origin dependent manner (note that the 'imprint' here refers to the epigenetic mechanism through which one allele is silenced, and is completely unrelated to classical 'filial imprinting' manifest at the behavioural level). Thus, for some imprinted genes expression is only (or predominantly) seen from the paternally inherited allele, whilst for the remainder, expression is only observed from the maternally inherited allele. Early work on this class of genes highlighted their importance in gross developmental and growth phenotypes. Recent studies in mouse models and humans have emphasised their contribution to brain function and behaviour. In this article, we review the literature concerning the expression of imprinted genes in the brain. In particular, we attempt to define emerging organisation themes, especially in terms of the direction of imprinting (i.e. maternal or paternal expression). We also emphasise the likely role of imprinted genes in neurodevelopment. We end by pointing out that, so far as discerning the precise functions of imprinted genes in the brain is concerned, there are currently more questions than answers; ranging from the extent to which imprinted genes might contribute to common mental disorders, to wider issues related to how easily the new data on brain may be accommodated within the dominant theory regarding the origins and maintenance of imprinting, which pits the maternal and paternal genomes against each other in an evolutionary battle of the sexes.

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