Selfish evolution of placental hormones

G. Keegan and M. M. Patten,  Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health,  10:391-397. 2022.

We hypothesize that some placental hormones—specifically those that arise by tandem duplication of genes for maternal hormones—may behave as gestational drivers, selfish genetic elements that encourage the spontaneous abortion of offspring that fail to inherit them. Such drivers are quite simple to evolve, requiring just three things: a decrease in expression or activity of some essential maternal hormone during pregnancy; a compensatory increase in expression or activity of the homologous hormone by the placenta; and genetic linkage between the two effects. Gestational drive may therefore be a common selection pressure experienced by any of the various hormones of mammalian pregnancy that have arisen by tandem gene duplication. We examine the evolution of chorionic gonadotropin in the human lineage in light of this hypothesis. Finally, we postulate that some of the difficulties of human pregnancy may be a consequence of the action of selfish genes.We show how placental hormones that have arisen via tandem gene duplication from maternally produced hormones may subsequently experience selection as selfish genetic elements and spread through populations despite causing reproductive inefficiency. We examine the implications of this hypothesis and point to some empirical tests.

Image from G. Keegan and M. M. Patten (2022) doi 10.1093/emph/eoac031


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