Numerous evolutionary theories have been developed to explain the epigenetic phenomenon of genomic imprinting. Here, we explore a subset of theories wherein non-additive genetic interactions can favour imprinting. In the simplest genic interaction - the case of underdominance - imprinting can be favoured to hide effectively low-fitness heterozygous genotypes; however, as there is no asymmetry between maternally and paternally inherited alleles in this model, other means of enforcing monoallelic expression may be more plausible evolutionary outcomes than genomic imprinting. By contrast, more successful interaction models of imprinting rely on an asymmetry between the maternally and paternally inherited alleles at a locus that favours the silencing of one allele as a means of coordinating the expression of high-fitness allelic combinations. For example, with interactions between autosomal loci, imprinting functionally preserves high-fitness genotypes that were favoured by selection in the previous generation. In this scenario, once a focal locus becomes imprinted, selection at interacting loci favours a matching imprint. Uniparental transmission generates similar asymmetries for sex chromosomes and cytoplasmic factors interacting with autosomal loci, with selection favouring the expression of either maternal or paternally derived autosomal alleles depending on the pattern of transmission of the uniparentally inherited factor. In a final class of models, asymmetries arise when genes expressed in offspring interact with genes expressed in one of its parents. Under such a scenario, a locus evolves to have imprinted expression in offspring to coordinate the interaction with its parent's genome. We illustrate these models and explore key links and differences using a unified framework.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
JBW received funding support from the Natural Environment Research Council, UK and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK. YB was supported by a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Bioinformatics from the National Science Foundation, USA. This material is partly based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation through the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) under Grant No. NSF EF-0905606.