Genetic regulation of bone metabolism in the chicken: similarities and differences to Mammalian systems

PLoS Genet. 2015 May 29;11(5):e1005250. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1005250. eCollection 2015 May.


Birds have a unique bone physiology, due to the demands placed on them through egg production. In particular their medullary bone serves as a source of calcium for eggshell production during lay and undergoes continuous and rapid remodelling. We take advantage of the fact that bone traits have diverged massively during chicken domestication to map the genetic basis of bone metabolism in the chicken. We performed a quantitative trait locus (QTL) and expression QTL (eQTL) mapping study in an advanced intercross based on Red Junglefowl (the wild progenitor of the modern domestic chicken) and White Leghorn chickens. We measured femoral bone traits in 456 chickens by peripheral computerised tomography and femoral gene expression in a subset of 125 females from the cross with microarrays. This resulted in 25 loci for female bone traits, 26 loci for male bone traits and 6318 local eQTL loci. We then overlapped bone and gene expression loci, before checking for an association between gene expression and trait values to identify candidate quantitative trait genes for bone traits. A handful of our candidates have been previously associated with bone traits in mice, but our results also implicate unexpected and largely unknown genes in bone metabolism. In summary, by utilising the unique bone metabolism of an avian species, we have identified a number of candidate genes affecting bone allocation and metabolism. These findings can have ramifications not only for the understanding of bone metabolism genetics in general, but could also be used as a potential model for osteoporosis as well as revealing new aspects of vertebrate bone regulation or features that distinguish avian and mammalian bone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism*
  • Chickens / genetics
  • Chickens / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Femur / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genetic Association Studies
  • Genetic Linkage
  • Male
  • Mammals
  • Mice
  • Protein Biosynthesis / genetics
  • Quantitative Trait Loci / genetics*

Grant support

The project was supported by grants from the Swedish Research Council (VR) grant number 621-2011-4802 to DW, the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS) grant number 221-2012-667 to DW, and European Research Council (advanced research grant GENEWELL 322206) to PJ. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.