The structure of the TH/INS locus and the parental allele expressed are not conserved between mammals

Heredity (Edinb). 2024 Jun 4. doi: 10.1038/s41437-024-00689-y. Online ahead of print.


Parent-of-origin-specific expression of imprinted genes is critical for successful mammalian growth and development. Insulin, coded by the INS gene, is an important growth factor expressed from the paternal allele in the yolk sac placenta of therian mammals. The tyrosine hydroxylase gene TH encodes an enzyme involved in dopamine synthesis. TH and INS are closely associated in most vertebrates, but the mouse orthologues, Th and Ins2, are separated by repeated DNA. In mice, Th is expressed from the maternal allele, but the parental origin of expression is not known for any other mammal so it is unclear whether the maternal expression observed in the mouse represents an evolutionary divergence or an ancestral condition. We compared the length of the DNA segment between TH and INS across species and show that separation of these genes occurred in the rodent lineage with an accumulation of repeated DNA. We found that the region containing TH and INS in the tammar wallaby produces at least five distinct RNA transcripts: TH, TH-INS1, TH-INS2, lncINS and INS. Using allele-specific expression analysis, we show that the TH/INS locus is expressed from the paternal allele in pre- and postnatal tammar wallaby tissues. Determining the imprinting pattern of TH/INS in other mammals might clarify if paternal expression is the ancestral condition which has been flipped to maternal expression in rodents by the accumulation of repeat sequences.