Changes in pituitary gene expression may underlie multiple domesticated traits in chickens.


AVIAN Behavioural Genomics and Physiology Group, IFM Biology, Linköping University, 58183, Linköping, Sweden. [Email]


Domesticated animals share a unique set of morphological and behavioral traits, jointly referred to as the domesticated phenotype. Striking similarities amongst a range of unrelated domesticated species suggest that similar regulatory mechanisms may underlie the domesticated phenotype. These include color pattern, growth, reproduction, development and stress response. Although previous studies have focused on the brain to find mechanisms underlying domestication, the potential role of the pituitary gland as a target of domestication is highly overlooked. Here, we study gene expression in the pituitary gland of the domesticated White Leghorn chicken and its wild ancestor, the Red Junglefowl. By overlapping differentially expressed genes with a previously published list of functionally important genes in the pituitary gland, we narrowed down to 34 genes. Amongst them, expression levels of genes with inhibitory function on pigmentation (ASIP), main stimulators of metabolism and sexual maturity (TSHB and DIO2), and a potential inhibitor of broodiness (PRLR), were higher in the domesticated breed. Additionally, expression of 2 key inhibitors of the stress response (NR3C1, CRHR2) was higher in the domesticated breed. We suggest that changes in the transcription of important modulatory genes in the pituitary gland can account not only for domestication of the stress response in domestic chickens, but also for changes in pigmentation, development, and reproduction. Given the pivotal role of the pituitary gland in the regulation of multiple shared domesticated traits, we suggest that similar changes in pituitary transcriptome may contribute to the domesticated phenotype in other species as well.

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