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Endocrinology. 2011 Mar;152(3):989-1000. doi: 10.1210/en.2010-1021. Epub 2011 Jan 14.

Changes in gene expression during pituitary morphogenesis and organogenesis in the chick embryo.

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Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA.


The anterior pituitary gland plays an important role in the regulation of many physiological processes. Formation of Rathke's pouch (RP), the precursor of the anterior pituitary, involves evagination of the oral ectoderm in a multi-step process regulated by cell interactions, signaling pathways, and transcription factors. Chickens are an excellent model to study development because of the availability of large sample sizes, accurate timing of development, and embryo accessibility. The aim of this study was to quantify mRNA expression patterns in the developing chicken anterior pituitary to evaluate the chicken embryo as a model for mammalian pituitary development. The expression profiles of 16 genes differentially expressed in RP and neuroectoderm were determined in this study. Among these, Pitx1, Pitx2, and Hesx1 mRNA levels were high on embryonic days (e) 2.5 to e3 in RP and decreased during development. Expression of Pit1 and Tbx19 mRNA in RP reached the highest levels by e7 and e6.5, respectively. Levels of glycoprotein subunit α mRNA increased beginning at e4. FGF8 mRNA showed the highest expression at e3 to e3.5 in neuroectoderm. BMP2 showed slight decreases in mRNA expression in both tissues during development, while Isl1 and Noggin mRNA expression increased in later development. Taken together, we present the first quantitative transcriptional profile of pituitary organogenesis. Our results will help further understanding of the functional development of this gland. Moreover, because of the high similarity in gene expression patterns observed between chicken and mouse, chickens could serve as an excellent model to study genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying pituitary development.

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