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Open Access Research article

Temporal transcriptome analysis of the chicken embryo yolk sac

Liran Yadgary1, Eric A Wong2 and Zehava Uni1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Animal Science, The Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, The Hebrew University, 76100 Rehovot, Israel

2 Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, 24061, Blacksburg, VA, USA

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BMC Genomics 2014, 15:690  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-15-690

Published: 19 August 2014



The yolk sac (YS) is an extra-embryonic tissue that surrounds the yolk and absorbs, digests and transports nutrients during incubation of the avian embryo as well as during early term mammalian embryonic development. Understanding YS functions and development may enhance the efficient transfer of nutrients and optimize embryo development. To identify temporal large-scale patterns of gene expression and gain insights into processes and mechanisms in the YS, we performed a transcriptome study of the YS of chick embryos on embryonic days (E) E13, E15, E17, E19, and E21 (hatch).


3547 genes exhibited a significantly changed expression across days. Clustering and functional annotation of these genes as well as histological sectioning of the YS revealed that we monitored two cell types: the epithelial cells and the erythropoietic cells of the YS. We observed a significant up-regulation of epithelial genes involved in lipid transport and metabolism between E13 and E19. YS epithelial cells expressed a vast array of lipoprotein receptors and fatty acid transporters. Several lysosomal genes (CTSA, PSAP, NPC2) and apolipoproteins genes (apoA1, A2, B, C3) were among the highest expressed, reflecting the intensive digestion and re-synthesis of lipoproteins in YS epithelial cells. Genes associated with cytoskeletal structure were down-regulated between E17 and E21 supporting histological evidence of a degradation of YS epithelial cells towards hatch.

Expression patterns of hemoglobin synthesis genes indicated a high erythropoietic capacity of the YS between E13 and E15, which decreased towards hatch. YS histological sections confirmed these results. We also observed that YS epithelial cells expressed high levels of genes coding for plasma carrier proteins (ALB, AFP, LTF, TTR), normally produced by the liver.


Here we expand current knowledge on developmental, nutritional and molecular processes in the YS. We demonstrate that in the final week of chick embryonic development, the YS plays different roles to support or replace the functions of several organs that have not yet reached their full functional capacity. The YS has a similar functional role as the intestine in digestion and transport of nutrients, the liver in producing plasma carrier proteins and coagulation factors, and the bone marrow in synthesis of blood cells.

Yolk sac; Gene expression; Transcriptome analysis; Chicken embryo; Epithelial cells; Nutrient transport; Lipoproteins; Cytoskeleton; Erythropoiesis