In mammals, imprinted genes regulate many critical endocrine processes such as growth, the onset of puberty and maternal reproductive behaviour. Human imprinting disorders (IDs) are caused by genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that alter the expression dosage of imprinted genes. Due to improvements in diagnosis, increasing numbers of patients with IDs are now identified and monitored across their lifetimes. Seminal work has revealed that IDs have a strong endocrine component, yet the contribution of imprinted gene products in the development and function of the hypothalamo-pituitary axis are not well defined. Postnatal endocrine processes are dependent upon the production of hormones from the pituitary gland. While the actions of a few imprinted genes in pituitary development and function have been described, to date there has been no attempt to link the expression of these genes as a class to the formation and function of this essential organ. This is important because IDs show considerable overlap, and imprinted genes are known to define a transcriptional network related to organ growth. This knowledge deficit is partly due to technical difficulties in obtaining useful transcriptomic data from the pituitary gland, namely, its small size during development and cellular complexity in maturity. Here we utilise high-sensitivity RNA sequencing at the embryonic stages, and single-cell RNA sequencing data to describe the imprinted transcriptome of the pituitary gland. In concert, we provide a comprehensive literature review of the current knowledge of the role of imprinted genes in pituitary hormonal pathways and how these relate to IDs. We present new data that implicate imprinted gene networks in the development of the gland and in the stem cell compartment. Furthermore, we suggest novel roles for individual imprinted genes in the aetiology of IDs. Finally, we describe the dynamic regulation of imprinted genes in the pituitary gland of the pregnant mother, with implications for the regulation of maternal metabolic adaptations to pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number509
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2021


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