Adaptive evolution of mammalian aromatases: Lessons from suiformes

Alan J Conley, C. J. Corbin, A. L. Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Estrogen synthesis evolved in chordates to control reproduction. The terminal enzyme in the cascade directly responsible for estrogen synthesis is aromatase cytochrome P450 (P450arom) encoded by the CYP19 gene. Mammals typically have a single CYP19 gene but pigs, peccaries and other Suiformes have two or more resulting from duplication in a common ancestor. Duplication of CYP genes in the steroid synthetic cascade has occurred for only one other enzyme, also terminal, 11b-hydroxylase P450 (P450c11). P450arom and P450c11 share common substrates and even physiological functions as possible remnants from a common P450 progenitor, perhaps an ancestral P450arom, which is supported by phylogenetic analysis. Conserved tissue-specific expression patterns of P450arom paralogs in placenta and gonads of pigs and peccaries suggest how functional adaptation may have proceeded divergently and influenced adopted reproductive strategies including ovulation rate and litter size. Data suggest that the porcine placental paralog evolved catalytically to protect female conceptuses from testosterone produced by male siblings; the gonadal paralog to synthesize a novel, nonaromatizable testosterone metabolite (1OH-testosterone) that may increase ovulation rate. This would represent a coevolution facilitating litter bearing as pigs diverged from peccaries. Evidence of convergence between the peccary CYP19 genes and lower tissue expression may therefore represent initiation of loss of the functional paralogs. Studies on the Suiforme aromatases provide insights into the evolution of the steroidogenic cascade and metabolic pathways in general, how it translates into physiological adaptations (altered reproductive strategies for instance), and how duplicated genes become stabilized or disappear from genomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)346-357
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 1 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Physiology
  • Molecular Biology


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