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J Exp Biol. 2012 May 1;215(Pt 9):1594-604. doi: 10.1242/jeb.068791.

In ovo temperature manipulation differentially influences limb musculoskeletal development in two lines of chick embryos selected for divergent growth rates.

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  • 1Department of Veterinary Basic Sciences, The Royal Veterinary College, Royal College Street, London NW1 0TU, UK.


Selective breeding has led to diverging phenotypic evolution in layer and broiler chickens through genomic and epigenetic modifications. Here we show that in ovo environmental manipulation differentially influences embryonic limb muscle phenotype in these two breeds. We demonstrate that raising incubation temperature from 37.5 to 38.5°C between embryonic days (ED) 4 and 7 increased motility and body mass in both layer and broiler embryos. In layers, this was accompanied by gastrocnemius muscle hypertrophy, increased fibre and nuclei numbers and a higher nuclei to fibre ratio (ED18), preceded by increased hindlimb Myf5 (ED5-8), Pax7 (ED5-10), BMP4 (ED6-9) and IGF-I (ED9-10, ED18) mRNAs. In broilers, the same temperature treatment led to reduced gastrocnemius cross-sectional area with fewer fibres and nuclei and an unchanged fibre to nuclei ratio (ED18). This was preceded by a delay in the peak of hindlimb Myf5 expression, increased Pax7 (ED5, ED7-10) and BMP4 (ED6-8) but reduced IGF-I (ED8-10) mRNAs. Rather than promoting myogenesis as in layer embryos, the temperature treatment promoted gastrocnemius intramuscular fat deposition in broilers (ED18) preceded by increased hindlimb PPARγ mRNA (ED7-10). The treatment increased tibia/tarsus bone length as well as femur cross-sectional area in both breeds, but femur length and bone to cartilage ratio in the femur and tibia/tarsus were only increased in treated layers (ED18). We conclude that in ovo temperature manipulation differentially affected the molecular regulation of hindlimb myogenic, adipogenic and growth factor expression in broiler and layer embryos, leading to differential changes in muscle phenotype. The underlying interactive mechanisms between genes and the environment need further investigation.

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