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Ecol Lett. 2014 Feb;17(2):165-74. doi: 10.1111/ele.12208. Epub 2013 Dec 9.

Ecology drives intragenomic conflict over menopause.

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School of Biological Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey, TW20 0EX, UK.


Menopause is the transition from reproductive to non-reproductive life well before natural death. Rather than involving a smooth, rapid change, it is normally preceded by a long period of erratic hormonal fluctuation that is accompanied by a plethora of unpleasant symptoms. Here, we (1) suggest that this turbulent period owes to conflict, between a woman's maternally inherited (MI) and paternally inherited (PI) genes, over the trade-off between reproduction and communal care; (2) perform a theoretical analysis to show that this conflict is resolved either through silencing or fluctuating expression of one of the genes; (3) highlight which of the symptoms preceding menopause may result from antagonistic co-evolution of MI and PI genes; (4) argue that ecological differences between ancestral human populations may explain the variability in menopause among different ethnic groups; (5) discuss how these insights may be used to inform family planning and cancer risk assessment based on a woman's ancestral background.


Cancer; cooperation; demography; fertility; game theory; genomic imprinting; humans; hunter gatherers; kin selection; migration

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