Open Access Open Badges Research article

Skin transcriptome profiles associated with coat color in sheep

Ruiwen Fan1, Jianshan Xie1, Junming Bai1, Haidong Wang1, Xue Tian1, Rui Bai1, Xiaoyun Jia1, Lei Yang1, Yunfei Song1, Muren Herrid12, Wenjun Gao1, Xiaoyan He1, Jianbo Yao13, George W Smith14 and Changsheng Dong1*

Author Affiliations

1 College of Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine, Shanxi Agricultural University, Taigu, 030801, China

2 School of Science and Technology, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, 2351, Australia

3 Laboratory of Animal Biotechnology and Genomics, Division of Animal and Nutritional Sciences, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, 26506, USA

4 Departments of Animal Science and Physiology, Laboratory of Mammalian Reproductive Biology and Genomics, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, 48824, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Genomics 2013, 14:389  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-389

Published: 10 June 2013



Previous molecular genetic studies of physiology and pigmentation of sheep skin have focused primarily on a limited number of genes and proteins. To identify additional genes that may play important roles in coat color regulation, Illumina sequencing technology was used to catalog global gene expression profiles in skin of sheep with white versus black coat color.


There were 90,006 and 74,533 unigenes assembled from the reads obtained from white and black sheep skin, respectively. Genes encoding for the ribosomal proteins and keratin associated proteins were most highly expressed. A total of 2,235 known genes were differentially expressed in black versus white sheep skin, with 479 genes up-regulated and 1,756 genes down-regulated. A total of 845 novel genes were differentially expressed in black versus white sheep skin, consisting of 107 genes which were up-regulated (including 2 highly expressed genes exclusively expressed in black sheep skin) and 738 genes that were down-regulated. There was also a total of 49 known coat color genes expressed in sheep skin, from which 13 genes showed higher expression in black sheep skin. Many of these up-regulated genes, such as DCT, MATP, TYR and TYRP1, are members of the components of melanosomes and their precursor ontology category.


The white and black sheep skin transcriptome profiles obtained provide a valuable resource for future research to understand the network of gene expression controlling skin physiology and melanogenesis in sheep.

Sheep skin; Transcriptome; Gene expression; Pigmentation; Melanogenesis