Exploration of tissue-specific gene expression patterns underlying timing of breeding in contrasting temperature environments in a song bird

Laine, V. N., Verhagen, I., Mateman, A. C., Pijl, A., Williams, T. D., Gienapp, P., van Oers, K. & Visser, M. E., 2-Sep-2019, In : BMC Genomics. 20, 1, 16 p., 693.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

  • Veronika N. Laine
  • Irene Verhagen
  • A. Christa Mateman
  • Agata Pijl
  • Tony D. Williams
  • Phillip Gienapp
  • Kees van Oers
  • Marcel E. Visser

BACKGROUND: Seasonal timing of breeding is a life history trait with major fitness consequences but the genetic basis of the physiological mechanism underlying it, and how gene expression is affected by date and temperature, is not well known. In order to study this, we measured patterns of gene expression over different time points in three different tissues of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal-liver axis, and investigated specifically how temperature affects this axis during breeding. We studied female great tits (Parus major) from lines artificially selected for early and late timing of breeding that were housed in two contrasting temperature environments in climate-controlled aviaries. We collected hypothalamus, liver and ovary samples at three different time points (before and after onset of egg-laying). For each tissue, we sequenced whole transcriptomes of 12 pools (n = 3 females) to analyse gene expression.

RESULTS: Birds from the selection lines differed in expression especially for one gene with clear reproductive functions, zona pellucida glycoprotein 4 (ZP4), which has also been shown to be under selection in these lines. Genes were differentially expressed at different time points in all tissues and most of the differentially expressed genes between the two temperature treatments were found in the liver. We identified a set of hub genes from all the tissues which showed high association to hormonal functions, suggesting that they have a core function in timing of breeding. We also found ample differentially expressed genes with largely unknown functions in birds.

CONCLUSIONS: We found differentially expressed genes associated with selection line and temperature treatment. Interestingly, the latter mainly in the liver suggesting that temperature effects on egg-laying date may happen down-stream in the physiological pathway. These findings, as well as our datasets, will further the knowledge of the mechanisms of tissue-specific avian seasonality in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number693
Number of pages16
JournalBMC Genomics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2-Sep-2019
Externally publishedYes

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