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Evolution. 2010 Sep;64(9):2587-600. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2010.01015.x.

A model for genomic imprinting in the social brain: juveniles.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA.


What are imprinted genes doing in the adult brain? Genomic imprinting is when a gene's expression depends upon parent of origin. According to the prevailing view, the "kinship theory" of genomic imprinting, this effect is driven by evolutionary conflicts between genes inherited via sperm versus egg. This theory emphasizes conflicts over the allocation of maternal resources, and focuses upon genes that are expressed in the placenta and infant brain. However, there is growing evidence that imprinted genes are also expressed in the juvenile and adult brain, after cessation of parental care. These genes have recently been suggested to underpin neurological disorders of the social brain such as psychosis and autism. Here we advance the kinship theory by developing an evolutionary model of genomic imprinting for social behavior beyond the nuclear family. We consider the role of demography and mating system, emphasizing the importance of sex differences in dispersal and variance in reproductive success. We predict that, in hominids and birds, altruism will be promoted by paternally inherited genes and egoism will be promoted by maternally inherited genes. In nonhominid mammals we predict more diversity, with some mammals showing the same pattern and other showing the reverse. We discuss the implications for the evolution of psychotic and autistic spectrum disorders in human populations with different social structures.

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