Telomeric DNA quantity, DNA damage, and heat shock protein gene expression as physiological stress markers in chickens

Poult Sci. 2012 Apr;91(4):829-36. doi: 10.3382/ps.2011-01904.


In this longitudinal study with Single Comb White Leghorn chickens, we investigated the effects of stress conditions in birds that were subjected to a high stocking density with feed restrictions on the quantity of telomeric DNA, the rate of DNA damage, and the expression levels of heat shock proteins (HSP) and hydroxyl-3-methyl-glutaryl coenzyme A reductase (HMGCR) genes. The telomere length and telomere-shortening rates were analyzed by quantitative fluorescence in situ hybridization on the nuclei of lymphocytes. The DNA damage rate of lymphocytes was quantified by the comet assay. The expression levels of HSP70, HSP90, and HMGCR genes were measured by quantitative real-time PCR in lymphocytes. The telomere-shortening rate of the lymphocytes was significantly higher in the stress group than in the control. The DNA damage also increased in birds raised under stress conditions, as compared with the control group. The stress conditions had a significant effect on the expressions of HMGCR and HSP90α in lymphocytes but had no significance on HSP70 and HSP90β in blood. We conclude that the telomere length, especially the telomere-shortening rates, the quantification of total DNA damage, and the expression levels of the HMGCR and HSP90α genes can be used as sensitive physiological stress markers in chickens.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chickens / genetics
  • Chickens / physiology*
  • Comet Assay / veterinary
  • DNA / analysis
  • DNA Damage
  • Food Deprivation
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism*
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins / metabolism*
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA-Reductases, NADP-dependent / metabolism*
  • In Situ Hybridization, Fluorescence / veterinary
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Population Density
  • Random Allocation
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction / veterinary
  • Telomere / metabolism


  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • DNA
  • Hydroxymethylglutaryl-CoA-Reductases, NADP-dependent