Distinct Patterns of Gene-Specific Methylation in Mammalian Placentas: Implications for Placental Evolution and Function

H. K. Ng, B. Novakovic, S. Hiendleder, J. M. Craig, C. T. Roberts, R. Saffery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


The placenta has arisen relatively recently and is among the most rapidly evolving tissues in mammals. Several different placental barrier and structure types appear to have independently evolved common functional features. Specific patterns of gene expression that determine placental development in humans are predicted to be accompanied by specific profiles of epigenetic modification. However, the stratification of epigenetic modifications into those involved in conserved aspects of placental function, versus those involved in divergent placental features, has yet to begin. As a first step towards this goal, we have investigated the methylation status of a small number of gene-specific methylation events recently identified in human placenta, in a panel of placental tissue from baboon, marmoset, cow, cat, guinea pig and mouse. These represent disparate placental barrier types and structures. In this study we hypothesized that specific epigenetic markings may be associated with placental barrier type or function, independent of phylogeny. However, in contrast to our predictions, the majority of gene-specific methylation appears to track with phylogeny, independent of placental barrier type or other structural features. This suggests that despite the likelihood of epigenetic modification playing a role in the functioning and evolution of different placental subtypes, there is no evidence for an involvement of the gene-specific methylation profiles we have identified, in specifying these differences. Further studies, examining larger numbers of epigenetic modifications across phylogeny, are required to define the role of specific epigenetic modifications in the evolution of distinct placental structures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-268
Number of pages10
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • DNA methylation
  • DNMT1
  • Epigenetics
  • Vitamin D 24-hydroxylase
  • Wnt signalling


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