Open Access Open Badges Research article

Gene expression profiling to identify eggshell proteins involved in physical defense of the chicken egg

Vincent Jonchère1, Sophie Réhault-Godbert1, Christelle Hennequet-Antier1, Cédric Cabau1, Vonick Sibut13, Larry A Cogburn2, Yves Nys1 and Joel Gautron1*

Author affiliations

1 INRA, UR83 Recherches Avicoles, F-37380 Nouzilly, France

2 Department of Animal and Food Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19717 USA

3 Institut Technique Avicole, F-37380 Nouzilly, France

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2010, 11:57  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-57

Published: 21 January 2010



As uricoletic animals, chickens produce cleidoic eggs, which are self-contained bacteria-resistant biological packages for extra-uterine development of the chick embryo. The eggshell constitutes a natural physical barrier against bacterial penetration if it forms correctly and remains intact. The eggshell's remarkable mechanical properties are due to interactions among mineral components and the organic matrix proteins. The purpose of our study was to identify novel eggshell proteins by examining the transcriptome of the uterus during calcification of the eggshell. An extensive bioinformatic analysis on genes over-expressed in the uterus allowed us to identify novel eggshell proteins that contribute to the egg's natural defenses.


Our 14 K Del-Mar Chicken Integrated Systems microarray was used for transcriptional profiling in the hen's uterus during eggshell deposition. A total of 605 transcripts were over-expressed in the uterus compared with the magnum or white isthmus across a wide range of abundance (1.1- to 79.4-fold difference). The 605 highly-expressed uterine transcripts correspond to 469 unique genes, which encode 437 different proteins. Gene Ontology (GO) analysis was used for interpretation of protein function. The most over-represented GO terms are related to genes encoding ion transport proteins, which provide eggshell mineral precursors. Signal peptide sequence was found for 54 putative proteins secreted by the uterus during eggshell formation. Many functional proteins are involved in calcium binding or biomineralization--prerequisites for interacting with the mineral phase during eggshell fabrication. While another large group of proteins could be involved in proper folding of the eggshell matrix. Many secreted uterine proteins possess antibacterial properties, which would protect the egg against microbial invasion. A final group includes proteases and protease inhibitors that regulate protein activity in the acellular uterine fluid where eggshell formation takes place.


Our original study provides the first detailed description of the chicken uterus transcriptome during formation of the eggshell. We have discovered a cache of about 600 functional genes and identified a large number of encoded proteins secreted into uterine fluid for fabrication of the eggshell and chemical protection of the egg. Some of these uterine genes could prove useful as biological markers for genetic improvement of phenotypic traits (i.e., egg and eggshell quality).