Changes in gene expression associated with reproductive maturation in wild female baboons

Genome Biol Evol. 2012;4(2):102-9. doi: 10.1093/gbe/evr134. Epub 2011 Dec 8.


Changes in gene expression during development play an important role in shaping morphological and behavioral differences, including between humans and nonhuman primates. Although many of the most striking developmental changes occur during early development, reproductive maturation represents another critical window in primate life history. However, this process is difficult to study at the molecular level in natural primate populations. Here, we took advantage of ovarian samples made available through an unusual episode of human-wildlife conflict to identify genes that are important in this process. Specifically, we used RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) to compare genome-wide gene expression patterns in the ovarian tissue of juvenile and adult female baboons from Amboseli National Park, Kenya. We combined this information with prior evidence of selection occurring on two primate lineages (human and chimpanzee). We found that in cases in which genes were both differentially expressed over the course of ovarian maturation and also linked to lineage-specific selection this selective signature was much more likely to occur in regulatory regions than in coding regions. These results suggest that adaptive change in the development of the primate ovary may be largely driven at the mechanistic level by selection on gene regulation, potentially in relationship to the physiology or timing of female reproductive maturation.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild / genetics*
  • Animals, Wild / growth & development
  • DNA, Intergenic / genetics
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Humans
  • Life Cycle Stages / genetics
  • Ovary / metabolism
  • Papio / genetics*
  • Papio / growth & development
  • Phylogeny
  • Reproduction / genetics*
  • Sexual Maturation / genetics*


  • DNA, Intergenic