1. Evolutionary Biology
  2. Genetics and Genomics
Download icon

Evolutionary transcriptomics implicates HAND2 in the origins of implantation and regulation of gestation length

  1. Mirna Marinić
  2. Katelyn Mika
  3. Sravanthi Chigurupati
  4. Vincent J Lynch  Is a corresponding author
  1. University of Chicago, United States
  2. AbbVie, United States
  3. University at Buffalo, United States
Research Article
  • Cited 0
  • Views 357
  • Annotations
Cite this article as: eLife 2021;10:e61257 doi: 10.7554/eLife.61257


The developmental origins and evolutionary histories of cell types, tissues and organ systems contribute to the ways in which their dysfunction leads to disease. In mammals for example, the nature and extent of maternal-fetal interactions, how those interactions develop, and their evolutionary history likely influence diseases of pregnancy such as infertility and preterm birth. Here we show genes that evolved to be expressed at the maternal-fetal interface in Eutherian ('Placental') mammals play essential roles in the evolution of pregnancy and are associated with immune system disorders and preterm birth. Among these genes is the transcription factor HAND2, which suppresses estrogen signaling, an innovation of Eutherians, thereby allowing blastocyst implantation. We found that HAND2 is dynamically expressed in the decidua throughout the menstrual cycle and pregnancy, gradually decreasing to reach a low at term. HAND2 regulates a small but distinct set of target genes in endometrial stromal fibroblasts including the cytokine IL15, which was also dynamically expressed throughout the menstrual cycle and gestation, and promoted the migration of natural killer cells and extravillous cytotrophoblasts. Remarkably, we found that the HAND2 promoter loops to a distal enhancer containing SNPs implicated in the regulation of gestation length and birth weight. Collectively, these data connect HAND2 expression at the maternal-fetal interface with the evolution of implantation and gestation length regulation, and preterm birth.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Mirna Marinić

    Organismal Biology and Anatomy, University of Chicago, Chicago, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-7037-8389
  2. Katelyn Mika

    Department of Human Genetics, University of Chicago, Chicago, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Sravanthi Chigurupati

    AbbVie, Chicago, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Vincent J Lynch

    Department of Biological Sciences, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-5311-3824


Burroughs Wellcome Fund (Preterm Birth Initiative,1013760)

  • Vincent J Lynch

March of Dimes Foundation (Prematurity Research Center)

  • Vincent J Lynch

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Antonis Rokas, Vanderbilt University, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: July 20, 2020
  2. Accepted: January 29, 2021
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: February 1, 2021 (version 1)


© 2021, Marinić et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


  • 357
    Page views
  • 89
  • 0

Article citation count generated by polling the highest count across the following sources: Crossref, PubMed Central, Scopus.

Download links

A two-part list of links to download the article, or parts of the article, in various formats.

Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)

Download citations (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)

Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)

Further reading

    1. Evolutionary Biology
    2. Genetics and Genomics
    Lea Stauber et al.
    Research Article

    Invasive microbial species constitute a major threat to biodiversity, agricultural production and human health. Invasions are often dominated by one or a small number of genotypes, yet the underlying factors driving invasions are poorly understood. The chestnut blight fungus Cryphonectria parasitica first decimated the North American chestnut, and a more recent outbreak threatens European chestnut stands. To unravel the chestnut blight invasion of southeastern Europe, we sequenced 230 genomes of predominantly European strains. Genotypes outside of the invasion zone showed high levels of diversity with evidence for frequent and ongoing recombination. The invasive lineage emerged from the highly diverse European genotype pool rather than a secondary introduction from Asia or North America. The expansion across southeastern Europe was mostly clonal and is dominated by a single mating type, suggesting a fitness advantage of asexual reproduction. Our findings show how an intermediary, highly diverse bridgehead population gave rise to an invasive, largely clonally expanding pathogen.

    1. Developmental Biology
    2. Evolutionary Biology
    Koh Onimaru et al.
    Research Article Updated

    How genetic changes are linked to morphological novelties and developmental constraints remains elusive. Here, we investigate genetic apparatuses that distinguish fish fins from tetrapod limbs by analyzing transcriptomes and open-chromatin regions (OCRs). Specifically, we compared mouse forelimb buds with the pectoral fin buds of an elasmobranch, the brown-banded bamboo shark (Chiloscyllium punctatum). A transcriptomic comparison with an accurate orthology map revealed both a mass heterochrony and hourglass-shaped conservation of gene expression between fins and limbs. Furthermore, open-chromatin analysis suggested that access to conserved regulatory sequences is transiently increased during mid-stage limb development. During this stage, stage-specific and tissue-specific OCRs were also enriched. Together, early and late stages of fin/limb development are more permissive to mutations than middle stages, which may have contributed to major morphological changes during the fin-to-limb evolution. We hypothesize that the middle stages are constrained by regulatory complexity that results from dynamic and tissue-specific transcriptional controls.