Open Access Research article

Transcriptomic profiling of proteases and antiproteases in the liver of sexually mature hens in relation to vitellogenesis

Marie Bourin, Joël Gautron, Magali Berges, Christelle Hennequet-Antier, Cédric Cabau, Yves Nys and Sophie Réhault-Godbert*

Author affiliations

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

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2012, 13:457  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-457

Published: 5 September 2012



Most egg yolk precursors are synthesized by the liver, secreted into the blood and transferred into oocytes, to provide nutrients and bioactive molecules for the avian embryo. Three hundred and sixteen distinct proteins have been identified in egg yolk. These include 37 proteases and antiproteases, which are likely to play a role in the formation of the yolk (vitellogenesis), as regulators of protein metabolism. We used a transcriptomic approach to define the protease and antiprotease genes specifically expressed in the hen liver in relation to vitellogenesis by comparing sexually mature and pre-laying chickens showing different steroid milieu.


Using a 20 K chicken oligoarray, a total of 582 genes were shown to be over-expressed in the liver of sexually mature hens (1.2 to 67 fold-differences). Eight of the top ten over-expressed genes are known components of the egg yolk or perivitelline membrane. This list of 582 genes contains 12 proteases and 3 antiproteases. We found that “uncharacterized protein LOC419301/similar to porin” (GeneID:419301), an antiprotease and “cathepsin E-A-like/similar to nothepsin” (GeneID:417848), a protease, were the only over-expressed candidates (21-fold and 35-fold difference, respectively) that are present in the egg yolk. Additionally, we showed the 4-fold over-expression of “ovochymase-2/similar to oviductin” (GeneID:769290), a vitelline membrane-specific protease.


Our approach revealed that three proteases and antiproteases are likely to participate in the formation of the yolk. The role of the other 12 proteases and antiproteases which are over-expressed in our model remains unclear. At least 1/3 of proteases and antiproteases identified in egg yolk and vitelline membrane proteomes are expressed similarly in the liver regardless of the maturity of hens, and have been initially identified as regulators of haemostasis and inflammatory events. The lack of effect of sex steroids on these genes expressed in the liver but the products of which are found in the yolk suggests that these may be passively incorporated into the yolk rather than actively produced for that purpose. These results raise the question of the biological significance of egg yolk proteases and antiproteases, and more generally of all minor proteins that have been identified in egg yolk.

Proteases; Antiproteases; Liver; Sex steroids; Metabolism; Transcriptomics; Chicken egg; Vitellogenesis