Open Access Research article

Hen uterine gene expression profiling during eggshell formation reveals putative proteins involved in the supply of minerals or in the shell mineralization process

Aurélien Brionne, Yves Nys, Christelle Hennequet-Antier and Joël Gautron*

Author Affiliations

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

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:220  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-220

Published: 21 March 2014



The chicken eggshell is a natural mechanical barrier to protect egg components from physical damage and microbial penetration. Its integrity and strength is critical for the development of the embryo or to ensure for consumers a table egg free of pathogens. This study compared global gene expression in laying hen uterus in the presence or absence of shell calcification in order to characterize gene products involved in the supply of minerals and / or the shell biomineralization process.


Microarrays were used to identify a repertoire of 302 over-expressed genes during shell calcification. GO terms enrichment was performed to provide a global interpretation of the functions of the over-expressed genes, and revealed that the most over-represented proteins are related to reproductive functions. Our analysis identified 16 gene products encoding proteins involved in mineral supply, and allowed updating of the general model describing uterine ion transporters during eggshell calcification. A list of 57 proteins potentially secreted into the uterine fluid to be active in the mineralization process was also established. They were classified according to their potential functions (biomineralization, proteoglycans, molecular chaperone, antimicrobials and proteases/antiproteases).


Our study provides detailed descriptions of genes and corresponding proteins over-expressed when the shell is mineralizing. Some of these proteins involved in the supply of minerals and influencing the shell fabric to protect the egg contents are potentially useful biological markers for the genetic improvement of eggshell quality.

Chicken; Eggshell; Uterus; Transcriptome; Biomineralization; Mineral supply; Organic matrix