A fundamental problem for the evolution of pregnancy, the most specialized form of parental investment among vertebrates, is the rejection of the nonself-embryo. Mammals achieve immunological tolerance by down-regulating both major histocompatibility complex pathways (MHC I and II). Although pregnancy has evolved multiple times independently among vertebrates, knowledge of associated immune system adjustments is restricted to mammals. All of them (except monotremata) display full internal pregnancy, making evolutionary reconstructions within the class mammalia meaningless. Here, we study the seahorse and pipefish family (syngnathids) that have evolved male pregnancy across a gradient from external oviparity to internal gestation. We assess how immunological tolerance is achieved by reconstruction of the immune gene repertoire in a comprehensive sample of 12 seahorse and pipefish genomes along the "male pregnancy" gradient together with expression patterns of key immune and pregnancy genes in reproductive tissues. We found that the evolution of pregnancy coincided with a modification of the adaptive immune system. Divergent genomic rearrangements of the MHC II pathway among fully pregnant species were identified in both genera of the syngnathids: The pipefishes (Syngnathus) displayed loss of several genes of the MHC II pathway while seahorses (Hippocampus) featured a highly divergent invariant chain (CD74). Our findings suggest that a trade-off between immunological tolerance and embryo rejection accompanied the evolution of unique male pregnancy. That pipefishes survive in an ocean of microbes without one arm of the adaptive immune defense suggests a high degree of immunological flexibility among vertebrates, which may advance our understanding of immune-deficiency diseases.
Keywords: comparative genomics; immunological tolerance; major histocompatibility complex; male pregnancy; seahorse.
Copyright © 2020 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.