Open Access Research article

Gene expression profiling in the Cynomolgus macaque Macaca fascicularis shows variation within the normal birth range

Bright Starling Emerald14*, Keefe Chng1, Shinya Masuda1, Deborah M Sloboda2, Mark H Vickers2, Ravi Kambadur13 and Peter D Gluckman12

Author Affiliations

1 Growth, Development and Metabolism Programme, Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences, Brenner Centre for Molecular Medicine, 30 Medical Drive, Singapore

2 Liggins Institute and the National Research Centre for Growth and Development, The University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland 1142, New Zealand

3 Division of Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology, School of Biological Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore

4 Department of Anatomy, Faculty of medicine and Health Sciences, UAE University, Tawam Medical Campus, PO BOX 17666, Al ain, UAE

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:509  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-509

Published: 16 October 2011



Although an adverse early-life environment has been linked to an increased risk of developing the metabolic syndrome, the molecular mechanisms underlying altered disease susceptibility as well as their relevance to humans are largely unknown. Importantly, emerging evidence suggests that these effects operate within the normal range of birth weights and involve mechanisms of developmental palsticity rather than pathology.


To explore this further, we utilised a non-human primate model Macaca fascicularis (Cynomolgus macaque) which shares with humans the same progressive history of the metabolic syndrome. Using microarray we compared tissues from neonates in the average birth weight (50-75th centile) to those of lower birth weight (5-25th centile) and studied the effect of different growth trajectories within the normal range on gene expression levels in the umbilical cord, neonatal liver and skeletal muscle.


We identified 1973 genes which were differentially expressed in the three tissue types between average and low birth weight animals (P < 0.05). Gene ontology analysis identified that these genes were involved in metabolic processes including cellular lipid metabolism, cellular biosynthesis, cellular macromolecule synthesis, cellular nitrogen metabolism, cellular carbohydrate metabolism, cellular catabolism, nucleotide and nucleic acid metabolism, regulation of molecular functions, biological adhesion and development.


These differences in gene expression levels between animals in the upper and lower percentiles of the normal birth weight range may point towards early life metabolic adaptations that in later life result in differences in disease risk.