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Mamm Genome. 1998 Oct;9(10):831-4.

Genomic imprinting in ruminants: allele-specific gene expression in parthenogenetic sheep.

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  • 1Programme in Developmental Genetics, The Babraham Institute, Cambridge CB2 4AT, United Kingdom.


Studies in the mouse have established that both parental genomes are essential for normal embryonic development. Parthenogenetic mouse embryos (which have two maternal genomes and no paternal genome), for example, are growth-retarded and die at early postimplantation stages. The distinct maternal and paternal contributions are mediated by genomic imprinting, an epigenetic mechanism by which the expression of certain genes is dependent on whether they are inherited from mother or father. Although comparative studies have established that many imprinted mouse (and rat) genes are allele-specifically expressed in humans as well (and vice versa), so far imprinting studies have not been performed in other mammalian species. When considering evolutionary theories of genomic imprinting, it would be important to know how widely it is conserved among placental mammals. We have investigated its conservation in a bovid ruminant, the domestic sheep, by comparing parthenogenetic and normal control embryos. Our study establishes that, like in the mouse, parthenogenetic development in sheep is associated with growth-retardation and does not proceed beyond early fetal stages. These developmental abnormalities are most likely caused by imprinted genes. We demonstrate that, indeed, like in mice and humans, the growth-related PEG1/MEST and Insulin-like Growth Factor 2 (IGF2) genes are expressed from the paternal chromosome in sheep. These observations suggest that genomic imprinting is conserved in a third, evolutionarily rather diverged group of placental mammals, the ruminants.

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