Mitonuclear Interactions Mediate Transcriptional Responses to Hypoxia in Drosophila

Mol Biol Evol. 2017 Feb 1;34(2):447-466. doi: 10.1093/molbev/msw246.


Among the major challenges in quantitative genetics and personalized medicine is to understand how gene × gene interactions (G × G: epistasis) and gene × environment interactions (G × E) underlie phenotypic variation. Here, we use the intimate relationship between mitochondria and oxygen availability to dissect the roles of nuclear DNA (nDNA) variation, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation, hypoxia, and their interactions on gene expression in Drosophila melanogaster. Mitochondria provide an important evolutionary and medical context for understanding G × G and G × E given their central role in integrating cellular signals. We hypothesized that hypoxia would alter mitonuclear communication and gene expression patterns. We show that first order nDNA, mtDNA, and hypoxia effects vary between the sexes, along with mitonuclear epistasis and G × G × E effects. Females were generally more sensitive to genetic and environmental perturbation. While dozens to hundreds of genes are altered by hypoxia in individual genotypes, we found very little overlap among mitonuclear genotypes for genes that were significantly differentially expressed as a consequence of hypoxia; excluding the gene hairy. Oxidative phosphorylation genes were among the most influenced by hypoxia and mtDNA, and exposure to hypoxia increased the signature of mtDNA effects, suggesting retrograde signaling between mtDNA and nDNA. We identified nDNA-encoded genes in the electron transport chain (succinate dehydrogenase) that exhibit female-specific mtDNA effects. Our findings have important implications for personalized medicine, the sex-specific nature of mitonuclear communication, and gene × gene coevolution under variable or changing environments.

Keywords: Drosophila; E; G ×; epistasis; hypoxia; mitonuclear; mtDNA; transcriptome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / metabolism
  • Epistasis, Genetic
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genotype
  • Haplotypes
  • Hypoxia / genetics*
  • Hypoxia / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Transcriptional Activation
  • Transcriptome


  • DNA, Mitochondrial