Immunological tolerance in the evolution of male pregnancy
The unique male pregnancy in pipefishes and seahorses ranges from basic attachment (pouchless species: Nerophinae) of maternal eggs to specialized internal gestation in pouched species (e.g. Syngnathus and Hippocampus) with many transitions in between. Due to this diversity, male pregnancy offers a unique platform for assessing physiolog-ical and molecular adaptations in pregnancy evolution. These insights will contribute to answering long-standing questions of why and how pregnancy evolved conver-gently in so many vertebrate systems. To understand the molecular congruencies and disparities in male pregnancy evolution, we compared transcriptome-wide differentially expressed genes in four syngnathid species, at four pregnancy stages (nonpregnant, early, late and parturition). Across all species and pregnancy forms, metabolic processes and immune dynamics defined pregnancy stages, especially pouched species shared expression features akin to female pregnancy. The observed downregulation of adaptive immune genes in early-stage pregnancy and its reversed upregulation during late/parturition in pouched species, most notably in Hippocampus, combined with directionless expression in the pouchless species, suggests immune modulation to be restricted to pouched species that evolved placenta-like systems. We propose that increased foeto-paternal intimacy in pouched syngnathids commands immune suppression processes in early gestation, and that the elevated immune response during parturition coincides with pouch opening and reduced progeny reliance. Immune response regulation in pouched species supports the recently described functional MHC II pathway loss as critical in male pregnancy evolution. The independent co-option of similar genes and pathways both in male and female pregnancy highlights immune modulation as crucial for the evolutionary establishment of pregnancy.