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Decades of intensive genetic selection in the domestic chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) have enabled the remarkable rapid growth of today’s broiler (meat-type) chickens. However, this enhanced growth rate was accompanied by several unfavorable traits (i.e., increased visceral fatness, leg weakness, and disorders of metabolism and reproduction). The present descriptive analysis of the abdominal fat transcriptome aimed to identify functional genes and biological pathways that likely contribute to an extreme difference in visceral fatness of divergently selected broiler chickens.


We used the Del-Mar 14 K Chicken Integrated Systems microarray to take time-course snapshots of global gene transcription in abdominal fat of juvenile [1-11 weeks of age (wk)] chickens divergently selected on bodyweight at two ages (8 and 36 wk). Further, a RNA sequencing analysis was completed on the same abdominal fat samples taken from high-growth (HG) and low-growth (LG) cockerels at 7 wk, the age with the greatest divergence in body weight (3.2-fold) and visceral fatness (19.6-fold).


Time-course microarray analysis revealed 312 differentially expressed genes (FDR ≤ 0.05) as the main effect of genotype (HG versus LG), 718 genes in the interaction of age and genotype, and 2918 genes as the main effect of age. The RNA sequencing analysis identified 2410 differentially expressed genes in abdominal fat of HG versus LG chickens at 7 wk. The HG chickens are fatter and over-express numerous genes that support higher rates of visceral adipogenesis and lipogenesis. In abdominal fat of LG chickens, we found higher expression of many genes involved in hemostasis, energy catabolism and endocrine signaling, which likely contribute to their leaner phenotype and slower growth. Many transcription factors and their direct target genes identified in HG and LG chickens could be involved in their divergence in adiposity and growth rate.


The present analyses of the visceral fat transcriptome in chickens divergently selected for a large difference in growth rate and abdominal fatness clearly demonstrate that abdominal fat is a very dynamic metabolic and endocrine organ in the chicken. The HG chickens overexpress many transcription factors and their direct target genes, which should enhance in situ lipogenesis and ultimately adiposity. Our observation of enhanced expression of hemostasis and endocrine-signaling genes in diminished abdominal fat of LG cockerels provides insight into genetic mechanisms involved in divergence of abdominal fatness and somatic growth in avian and perhaps mammalian species, including humans.