Document Type


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Publication Title

Molecular Ecology





First Page



ageing, DNA methylation, environmental stress, genetic stress, inbreeding, inbreeding depression

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Inbreeding depression is the loss of fitness resulting from the mating of genetically related individuals. Traditionally, the study of inbreeding depression focused on genetic effects, although recent research has identified DNA methylation as also having a role in inbreeding effects. Since inbreeding depression and DNA methylation change with age and environmental stress, DNA methylation is a likely candidate for the regulation of genes associated with inbreeding depression. Here, we use a targeted, multigene approach to assess methylation at 22 growth-, metabolic-, immune- and stress-related genes. We developed PCR-based DNA methylation assays to test the effects of intense inbreeding on intragenic gene-specific methylation in inbred and outbred Chinook salmon. Inbred fish had altered methylation at three genes, CK-1, GTIIBS and hsp70, suggesting that methylation changes associated with inbreeding depression are targeted to specific genes and are not whole-genome effects. While we did not find a significant inbreeding by age interaction, we found that DNA methylation generally increases with age, although methylation decreased with age in five genes, CK-1, IFN-ɣ, HNRNPL, hsc71 and FSHb, potentially due to environmental context and sexual maturation. As expected, we found methylation patterns differed among tissue types, highlighting the need for careful selection of target tissue for methylation studies. This study provides insight into the role of epigenetic effects on ageing, environmental response and tissue function in Chinook salmon and shows that methylation is a targeted and regulated cellular process. We provide the first evidence of epigenetically based inbreeding depression in vertebrates.



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