Molecular Signatures of Placentation and Secretion Uncovered in Poeciliopsis Maternal Follicles

Michael W. Guernsey, Henri van Kruistum, David N. Reznick, Bart J.A. Pollux, Julie C. Baker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Placentation evolved many times independently in vertebrates. Although the core functions of all placentas are similar, we know less about how this similarity extends to the molecular level. Here, we study Poeciliopsis, a unique genus of live-bearing fish that have independently evolved complex placental structures at least three times. The maternal follicle is a key component of these structures. It envelops yolk-rich eggs and is morphologically simple in lecithotrophic species but has elaborate villous structures in matrotrophic species. Through sequencing, the follicle transcriptome of a matrotrophic, Poeciliopsis retropinna, and lecithotrophic, P. turrubarensis, species we found genes known to be critical for placenta function expressed in both species despite their difference in complexity. Additionally, when we compare the transcriptome of different river populations of P. retropinna, known to vary in maternal provisioning, we find differential expression of secretory genes expressed specifically in the top layer of villi cells in the maternal follicle. This provides some of the first evidence that the placental structures of Poeciliopsis function using a secretory mechanism rather than direct contact with maternal circulation. Finally, when we look at the expression of placenta proteins at the maternal-fetal interface of a larger sampling of Poeciliopsis species, we find expression of key maternal and fetal placenta proteins in their cognate tissue types of all species, but follicle expression of prolactin is restricted to only matrotrophic species. Taken together, we suggest that all Poeciliopsis follicles are poised for placenta function but require expression of key genes to form secretory villi.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2679-2690
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular Biology and Evolution
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


  • placenta
  • Poeciliopsis
  • transcriptome

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