Every diploid organism inherits a complete chromosome set from its father and mother in addition to the sex chromosomes, so that all autosomal genes are available in two copies. For most genes, both copies are expressed without preference. Imprinted genes, however, are expressed depending on their parental origin, being active on the paternal or maternal allele only. To date 73 imprinted genes are known in mouse (www.mgu.har.mrc.ac.uk/research/imprinting), 37 show paternal expression while 36 show maternal expression, indicating no bias for imprinting to occur in one sex or the other. Therefore, two different parental-specific imprinting systems may have evolved in mammals, acting specifically in the paternal or maternal gamete. Similarities and differences between the two imprinting systems will be reviewed, with specific reference to the role of non-coding RNAs and chromatin modifications. The mouse Igf2r/Air cluster is presented as a model of the maternal imprinting system.

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