Genetic differentiation of hypothalamus parentally biased transcripts in populations of the house mouse implicate the Prader-Willi syndrome imprinted region as a possible source of behavioral divergence

Mol Biol Evol. 2014 Dec;31(12):3240-9. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msu257. Epub 2014 Aug 28.


Parentally biased expression of transcripts (genomic imprinting) in adult tissues, including the brain, can influence and possibly drive the evolution of behavioral traits. We have previously found that paternally determined cues are involved in population-specific mate choice decisions between two populations of the Western house mouse (Mus musculus domesticus). Here, we ask whether this could be mediated by genomically imprinted transcripts that are subject to fast differentiation between these populations. We focus on three organs that are of special relevance for mate choice and behavior: The vomeronasal organ (VNO), the hypothalamus, and the liver. To first identify candidate transcripts at a genome-wide scale, we used reciprocal crosses between M. m. domesticus and M. m. musculus inbred strains and RNA sequencing of the respective tissues. Using a false discovery cutoff derived from mock reciprocal cross comparisons, we find a total of 66 imprinted transcripts, 13 of which have previously not been described as imprinted. The largest number of imprinted transcripts were found in the hypothalamus; fewer were found in the VNO, and the least were found in the liver. To assess molecular differentiation and imprinting in the wild-derived M. m. domesticus populations, we sequenced the RNA of the hypothalamus from individuals of these populations. This confirmed the presence of the above identified transcripts also in wild populations and allowed us to search for those that show a high genetic differentiation between these populations. Our results identify the Ube3a-Snrpn imprinted region on chromosome 7 as a region that encompasses the largest number of previously not described transcripts with paternal expression bias, several of which are at the same time highly differentiated. For four of these, we confirmed their imprinting status via single nucleotide polymorphism-specific pyrosequencing assays with RNA from reciprocal crosses. In addition, we find the paternally expressed Peg13 transcript within the Trappc9 gene region on chromosome 15 to be highly differentiated. Interestingly, both regions have been implicated in Prader-Willi nervous system disorder phenotypes in humans. We suggest that these genomically imprinted regions are candidates for influencing the population-specific mate-choice in mice.

Keywords: Mus domesticus; Mus musculus; RNASeq; genetic differentiation; hypothalamus; imprinting; liver; vomeronasal organ.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Genetic Drift
  • Genomic Imprinting
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred Strains
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Phenotype
  • Prader-Willi Syndrome / genetics*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal
  • Transcriptome


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Peg13 protein, mouse
  • RNA, Messenger