Seasonality can cause changes in many environmental factors which potentially affects gene expression. Here, we used a bat species (Rhinolophus sinicus) from eastern China as a model to explore the molecular mechanisms of seasonal effects, in particular during phenological shifts in the spring and autumn. Based on the analysis of 45 RNA-seq samples, we found strong seasonal effects on gene expression, with a large number of genes identified as either specific or biased to each season. Weighted gene co-expression network analysis also identified multiple modules significantly associated with each season. These seasonal genes were further enriched into different functional categories. Consistent with effects of phenological shifts on bats, we found that genes related to promoting food intake were highly expressed in both autumn and spring. In addition, immunity genes were also highly expressed in both seasons although this seasonal immune response had tissue specificity in different seasons. In female bats, genes related to the delay of ovulation (e.g., NPPC, natriuretic peptide precursor type C) were highly expressed in October, while genes associated with the promotion of reproduction (e.g., DIO2, iodothyronine deiodinase 2) were biasedly expressed in April. Lastly, we found multiple known core clock genes in both October-biased and April-biased expressed genes, which may be involved in regulating the start and end of hibernation, respectively. Overall, together with studies in other land and aquatic animals, our work supports that seasonal gene expression variations may be a general evolutionary response to environmental changes in wild animals.
Keywords: bats; circannual; immunity; seasonal changes; transcriptome.
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