Gene expression analysis identifies new candidate genes associated with the development of black skin spots in Corriedale sheep
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The white coat colour of sheep is an important economic trait. For unknown reasons, some animals are born with, and others develop with time, black skin spots that can also produce pigmented fibres. The presence of pigmented fibres in the white wool significantly decreases the fibre quality. The aim of this work was to study gene expression in black spots (with and without pigmented fibres) and white skin by microarray techniques, in order to identify the possible genes involved in the development of this trait. Five unrelated Corriedale sheep were used and, for each animal, the three possible comparisons (three different hybridisations) between the three samples of interest were performed. Differential gene expression patterns were analysed using different t-test approaches. Most of the major genes with well-known roles in skin pigmentation, e.g. ASIP, MC1R and C-KIT, showed no significant difference in the gene expression between white skin and black spots. On the other hand, many of the differentially expressed genes (raw P-value < 0.005) detected in this study, e.g. C-FOS, KLF4 and UFC1, fulfil biological functions that are plausible to be involved in the formation of black spots. The gene expression of C-FOS and KLF4, transcription factors involved in the cellular response to external factors such as ultraviolet light, was validated by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This exploratory study provides a list of candidate genes that could be associated with the development of black skin spots that should be studied in more detail. Characterisation of these genes will enable us to discern the molecular mechanisms involved in the development of this feature and, hence, increase our understanding of melanocyte biology and skin pigmentation. In sheep, understanding this phenomenon is a first step towards developing molecular tools to assist in the selection against the presence of pigmented fibres in white wool.
KeywordsMicroarray analysis Pigmented fibre Sheep Skin pigmentation
We thank Gabriela Libisch and Gonzalo Grief (Unidad de Biología Molecular, Institut Pasteur de Montevideo) for their invaluable assistance in the laboratory work. This research was supported by grant FCE2007_547 from Agencia Nacional de Investigación e Innovación (Uruguay).
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