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Open Access Research article

Gene expression profiles in testis of pigs with extreme high and low levels of androstenone

Maren Moe12*, Theo Meuwissen23, Sigbjørn Lien23, Christian Bendixen4, Xuefei Wang4, Lene Nagstrup Conley4, Ingunn Berget35, Håvard Tajet12 and Eli Grindflek13

Author Affiliations

1 The Norwegian Pig Breeders Association (NORSVIN), Hamar, Norway.

2 Department of Animal and Aquacultural Sciences, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway.

3 Centre for Integrative Genetics (CIGENE), Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway.

4 Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, University of Aarhus, Tjele, Denmark.

5 MATFORSK, Osloveien 1, Ås, Norway.

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BMC Genomics 2007, 8:405  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-405

Published: 7 November 2007

Abstract

Background:

Boar taint is a major obstacle when using uncastrated male pigs for swine production. One of the main compounds causing this taint is androstenone, a pheromone produced in porcine testis. Here we use microarrays to study the expression of thousands of genes simultaneously in testis of high and low androstenone boars. The study allows identification of genes and pathways associated with elevated androstenone levels, which is essential for recognising potential molecular markers for breeding purposes.

Results:

Testicular tissue was collected from 60 boars, 30 with extreme high and 30 with extreme low levels of androstenone, from each of the two breeds Duroc and Norwegian Landrace. The samples were hybridised to porcine arrays containing 26,877 cDNA clones, detecting 563 and 160 genes that were differentially expressed (p < 0.01) in Duroc and Norwegian Landrace, respectively. Of these significantly up- and down-regulated clones, 72 were found to be common for the two breeds, suggesting the possibility of both general and breed specific mechanisms in regulation of, or response to androstenone levels in boars. Ten genes were chosen for verification of expression patterns by quantitative real competitive PCR and real-time PCR. As expected, our results point towards steroid hormone metabolism and biosynthesis as important biological processes for the androstenone levels, but other potential pathways were identified as well. Among these were oxidoreductase activity, ferric iron binding, iron ion binding and electron transport activities. Genes belonging to the cytochrome P450 and hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase families were highly up-regulated, in addition to several genes encoding different families of conjugation enzymes. Furthermore, a number of genes encoding transcription factors were found both up- and down-regulated. The high number of clones belonging to ferric iron and iron ion binding suggests an importance of these genes, and the association between these pathways and androstenone levels is not previously described.

Conclusion:

This study contributes to the understanding of the complex genetic system controlling and responding to androstenone levels in pig testis. The identification of new pathways and genes involved in the biosynthesis and metabolism of androstenone is an important first step towards finding molecular markers to reduce boar taint.