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Open Access Research article

Testes and brain gene expression in precocious male and adult maturing Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

Aoife Guiry1, Denis Flynn1, Sophie Hubert1, Allan M O'Keeffe1, Olivier LeProvost1, Samantha L White1, Patrick F Forde1, Pamela Davoren1, Benoit Houeix1, Terry J Smith1, Deirdre Cotter2, Noel P Wilkins1 and Michael T Cairns1*

Author Affiliations

1 National University of Ireland, Galway, University Road, Galway, Ireland

2 Marine Institute, Furnace, Newport, Co Mayo, Ireland

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:211  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-211

Published: 30 March 2010

Abstract

Background

The male Atlantic salmon generally matures in fresh water upon returning after one or several years at sea. Some fast-growing male parr develop an alternative life strategy where they sexually mature before migrating to the oceans. These so called 'precocious' parr or 'sneakers' can successfully fertilise adult female eggs and so perpetuate their line. We have used a custom-built cDNA microarray to investigate gene expression changes occurring in the salmon gonad and brain associated with precocious maturation. The microarray has been populated with genes selected specifically for involvement in sexual maturation (precocious and adult) and in the parr-smolt transformation.

Results

Immature and mature parr collected from a hatchery-reared stock in January were significantly different in weight, length and condition factor. Changes in brain expression were small - never more than 2-fold on the microarray, and down-regulation of genes was much more pronounced than up-regulation. Significantly changing genes included isotocin, vasotocin, cathepsin D, anamorsin and apolipoprotein E. Much greater changes in expression were seen in the testes. Among those genes in the testis with the most significant changes in expression were anti-Mullerian hormone, collagen 1A, and zinc finger protein (Zic1), which were down-regulated in precocity and apolipoproteins E and C-1, lipoprotein lipase and anti-leukoproteinase precursor which were up-regulated in precocity. Expression changes of several genes were confirmed in individual fish by quantitative PCR and several genes (anti-Mullerian hormone, collagen 1A, beta-globin and guanine nucleotide binding protein (G protein) beta polypeptide 2-like 1 (GNB2L1) were also examined in adult maturing testes. Down-regulation of anti-Mullerian hormone was judged to be greater than 160-fold for precocious males and greater than 230-fold for November adult testes in comparison to July testes by this method. For anti-Mullerian hormone and guanine nucleotide binding protein beta polypeptide 2-like 1 expression changes in precocious males mirrored mature adults (November) but for collagen 1A and beta-globin the pattern was more complex.

Conclusions

Expression changes in the fish brain during the process of precocious sexual maturation were small compared to those in the testes. Microarray analysis suggested down-regulation of housekeeping functions and up-regulation of a small number of specific processes. Transcriptional changes in the testes were much more pronounced with anti-Mullerian hormone playing a major role. Expression profiles for mature parr and maturing adult testes indicate subtle differences in gene expression between these two related groups.