Transcriptomic Changes Associated with Pregnancy in a Marsupial, the Gray Short-Tailed Opossum Monodelphis domestica

PLoS One. 2016 Sep 6;11(9):e0161608. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161608. eCollection 2016.


Live birth has emerged as a reproductive strategy many times across vertebrate evolution; however, mammals account for the majority of viviparous vertebrates. Marsupials are a mammalian lineage that last shared a common ancestor with eutherians (placental mammals) over 148 million years ago. Marsupials are noted for giving birth to highly altricial young after a short gestation, and represent humans' most distant viviparous mammalian relatives. Here we ask what insight can be gained into the evolution of viviparity in mammals specifically and vertebrates in general by analyzing the global uterine transcriptome in a marsupial. Transcriptome analyses were performed using NextGen sequencing of uterine RNA samples from the gray short-tailed opossum, Monodelphis domestica. Samples were collected from late stage pregnant, virgin, and non-pregnant experienced breeders. Three different algorithms were used to determine differential expression, and results were confirmed by quantitative PCR. Over 900 opossum gene transcripts were found to be significantly more abundant in the pregnant uterus than non-pregnant, and over 1400 less so. Most with increased abundance were genes related to metabolism, immune systems processes, and transport. This is the first study to characterize the transcriptomic differences between pregnant, non-pregnant breeders, and virgin marsupial uteruses and helps to establish a set of pregnancy-associated genes in the opossum. These observations allowed for comparative analyses of the differentially transcribed genes with other mammalian and non-mammalian viviparous species, revealing similarities in pregnancy related gene expression over 300 million years of amniote evolution.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / genetics
  • Opossums / genetics*
  • Opossums / growth & development
  • Pregnancy
  • Protein Biosynthesis / genetics
  • RNA / biosynthesis
  • Transcriptome / genetics*
  • Uterus / growth & development
  • Uterus / metabolism*


  • RNA